Tis the season for industry conferences. Before you head out the door, ask yourself if you are going for the food, the fascinating keynote speakers, the credits, or the Palm Springs golf course? If you are, then you are going for the wrong reason. Industry conferences are an opportunity for you to make and develop priceless relationships, so go to conferences with the overarching purpose of building relationships. Follow these rules to make this year’s conference the most productive conference you have ever attended.
The most powerful individual at a conference is the conference organizer. Most of these organizers are overworked and can use a hand as the event comes down to the wire. The more involved you are with a conference, the more exposure you can have. Being on the inside will give you access to the invite-only dinners, complete lists of attendees, and an understanding of where everything and everyone will be once the conference kicks off.
Conference speakers are celebrities. Most industry conferences offer opportunities for its members to speak. Be aware that many associations plan events 9 months to 1 year out, so you may have to plan ahead. You do not have to be an American Idol winner or gold-medal Olympian to secure a speaking arrangement. Find your expertise, consider how you can speak on this expertise to bring value to the conference, and then pitch your idea to the conference organizers.
Be a hub of information
The more you know, the more you can offer. Come to a conference prepared with up-to-date information on who will be speaking, the location of local restaurants and parties, and the latest on industry gossip. Use this information to brand yourself as a conference attendee who has answers. As others come to you with questions, you will be able to form relationships in non-threatening situations because attendees are already asking you questions.
Master your pitch
When you attend a conference, you will meet lots of new people. How you convert all of these contacts into real leads or relationships depends largely upon how you pitch yourself. Imagine you run into someone you have been hoping to meet in the hall on the way to the restroom. You may have only thirty seconds to introduce yourself and secure a follow up. What do you say? Practice your pitch before you arrive and be prepared to introduce yourself and to arrange follow up appointments with anyone you meet.
Identify key individuals and research them
Check out the list of attendees before you leave for your conference. Who do you want to meet? Once you know whom you want to meet, set about researching these people. A simple Google search is usually enough to tell you what he or she looks like. Continue to search to see if you have a hobby or industry interest in common. Then search to see if the individual has received an award, published an industry paper, or received some other form of acclaim. This empowers you with break-the-ice discussion topics and a better understanding of the person you will meet.
Work during the breaks
Breaks are no time to take a nap. Use breaks as a time to get out of your chair or out of your hotel room and meet people. Find the gathering places (the bar, the lobby, the game room, etcetera) and get to work. You have already researched your key contacts, so use this time to find and talk with them. Remember, people are watching you as well, so stand up straight and look good.
Every point above is worthless if you do not follow up. When you converse with others, be sure to collect contact information and establish a time and method for following up. Send out thank you cards at the close of the conference to contacts you met who had a part in making the conference happen. Finally, email or call particularly key individuals and let them know that you enjoyed meeting them and that you look forward to working with them in the future.
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