You know what problem I have realized? A lot of us suck at making the most of the conferences and events that we attend. I recently went to my first conference this March and I realized after the event that the little prep-work I did wasn’t enough. As you can see from the title, this is part 2 of what I learned and we are going to focus on the actual event itself. If you haven’t read part one, what prep-work we should be doing to set us up for success, you can check that out here.
At this point, after we have done the needed prep-work to be prepared to absolutely crush the event, we have to keep the momentum going. Now is not the time to chicken out and roll up into the fetal position. Be brave and don’t waste all that effort. (You can check out the video breakdown of this post here)
Lets start off with the biggest piece of advice that can make the whole plan crumble. Don’t follow the plan of only talking to the 3-5 key people so rigidly. If we do this, we will miss some amazing opportunities to connect with others that could make the conference an absolute success. I on the other hand did not do this. I walked in, ran into a guy that I hadn’t seen in years and caught up with him. After that, I started walking around trying to find the 3 people I had pegged that I really wanted to meet and get to know. I walked around and added quite a few steps to my Fitbit counter, and made myself look like a roving lunatic. We need to realize that most of the conferences we attend will be a few hundred to a few thousand people, so picking out three specific people may be near improbable. This is why we have the key folks we would like to meet, but it isn’t a plan that you need to follow exactly.
So now that you are ok with veering off your mission of only talking to 3-5 very specific people, lets realize one thing, EVERYONE at the conference is going to have some reservations about striking up conversations with strangers. As outgoing as they may be in their typical environments, conferences are not the norm for folks and that puts them a little on edge. This is why you have done all the prep-work, because it puts your nerves at ease and allows you to be the confident person to break the ice. Everyone loves confidence and it breaths life into conversations. Don’t be afraid to talk to others. Come prepared with a handful of questions that are actually interesting ones. Get beyond the ones about their job and what they do. Ask questions around; “Why they are at this conference?” “What would a win look like for them at the end of this event?” “What speaker are you most looking forward to seeing?” “Have you met anyone interesting?” These questions, and the million others we could all come up with, are just different enough to give you some ammo to start a conversation that could lead to a great relationship.
Knowing the event and having a plan for the schedule is also a huge help. I ended up sitting at a random table because my friend had some important calls to finish and I didn’t have the bright idea to save us seats for the lunch portion so we had to split up. These small details of sitting down early and saving seats are nice, unless you want to challenge yourself and be open to meeting other attendees. Since we had to split up, I ended up meeting a gentleman who lives about 15 minutes from where I work, knows one of my friends, AND is also a runner like me. Another piece of advice I learned from Jayson Gaignard is to look for the uncommon commonalities between you and the other individual. When you find out these uncommon commonalities like you both know the same person or enjoy running, you both can geek out over whatever topic that is and start to build a better foundation for a relationship. These uncommon commonalities also give you specific and interesting things to follow up on with that new contact.
Now that you have been willing to break the plan, break the ice with others, and meet new people, there is one last little tip I have for you. Make sure you have a couple of one liners ready to get you out of the conversations that are going nowhere. Not that you are going to burn this bridge, but you have no idea who this person really is or where this connection could lead. You also don’t want to be trapped in an awkward conversation for 30 minutes. Here are a few suggestions, “I don’t want to keep you from meeting other attendees, here is my card and lets catch up via email after the conference.” “Are you staying for the whole conference? Let’s try and meet up later.” “I’ve enjoyed meeting you, since I have to go meet someone else, here is my card so we can follow up later.”
All of this is a lot, I know, but the more prepared we are going into the conference, the more relaxed we feel and the better chance we have of forming relationships with others. Remember, we have no idea who that person will become and how that relationships could turn out to be a great asset for us in the future.
What are some of your tips that you apply while you are attending the conference?