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?
Valentines Day… it’s just another corporate holiday that marketers have taken over so that men and woman can be forced into passionless nights of pressure filled “romance” and spend way to much money on crap you don’t need. Can I get an amen.
Oh, and by the way, I don’t believe anything I just wrote. If you don’t celebrate valentines day with your significant other, that is totally up to you, but as for me, I see this day as a brilliant reminder to love and pursue that special someone. I know what your thinking, “Paul, I pursue him / her every day,” And to that I call bull shit. Lets not kid ourselves, thats just not true. For most of the folks who would agree with the above paragraph, I am willing to bet that your significant other only feels pursued three to four days out of the year: Your anniversary, their birthday, Christmas, and maybe one other day thrown in there for good measure.
Valentines day is a gift, and it doesn’t have to cost you much, or any, money depending on what you actually do. This is a day that is forced into our society for sure, but it is one that I take as a blessing because it gives me an amazing excuse to direct my attention not only to my wife, but my kids as well.
I want my kids to know how to pursue their love. I want my son to know how to woo a woman and I want my daughter to know what it is like to be wooed. I want to build up in her this understanding that if a man doesn’t woo her, he is not worth her time. She is a beauty to be taken on an adventure, not just to be looked at and potentially admired. By the time my kids are really ready to date, I want to have given them an amazing example for them to follow.
So to all those haters out there… take a second look at this potentially under-marketed holiday full of sugar, delicious meals, and lots of trees sacrificing their lives so you can express your love via a card. Take a second look and realize the opportunity you have been given.
Happy Valentines Day
P.S. Let me know what exciting plans you have for your love.
When we are building relationships, especially with people we would consider mentors, we need to be prepared. We need to come into those conversations not with an agenda, but with a list of questions and a general idea of where the conversation will go. As we meet with others, we need to not only honor their time, but honor their feedback and responses as well.
The way we honor their feedback and responses is by actually applying what they say. There is no better way to push someone away or tell them they are useless than when we listen to some good advice and then never act on it. Heck, when you are in those meetings, bring a pen and paper and jot some things down so that you will actually remember what is talked about and immediately apply it.
Now you may be asking, “How is this going to help me lead when I am not in charge?” Let me give you two ways. The first is that in learning from others who have gone before you, it allows you to sharpen old skills while creating new ones. When this happens, it gives us more tools in the proverbial tool belt to take on the next opportunity that comes our way. The second way is that it builds and strengthens relationships. It’s these relationships that in the future can bring about opportunities.
When we show those that we respect that we have the ability to listen and apply, it lets them know that you can handle more. Learning and growing yourself also has the ability to inspire those that are around us to do the same. People want to repeat the actions that are getting rewarded. So when others are looking from the outside and they see you sharpening old skills and creating new ones, and when they see you getting new opportunities, it creates a drive in them to do the same. It also creates an opportunity for you to be the one to share in their story, offer some great advice, and see them succeed.
What was the last conversation you had with someone of influence or with a mentor, and what one or two pieces of advice should you have started to apply then?
It is extremely hard to just fall into positions of leadership and have influence over many people. When we strive for positions that have influence over many, it adds stress and pressure to our lives that isn’t needed. One of the things I learned in 2018 was to not focus on how many I am leading, but to focus on those that I get to work with.
If we want to start getting opportunities to lead more and help others, we need to fill the gap. We can fill the gap in two areas: in our companies culture, and with shorthanded projects.
Filling the gap in culture. There is almost always going to be a gap from where the company currently is, and where it want’s to be as it relates to culture and environment. If you want to be a help and influence others, start living out the culture that the company aspires to. If it is one of excitement, then set the temperature of the building, figuratively speaking, by being the person who comes in ready to crush the day. If it is a place of encouragement and help, be the one that is always looking for the good in others and comment on it when you see it. Basically, be one of the catalysts that gets your company closer to the culture it desires.
Filling the gap in projects. I don’t care where you work or where you go in life, there is always a need for a volunteer or a part-time position. This world is never lacking with areas that we can help and add value. If you want to grow in your leadership, start offering your skills and expertise to your company or to local not-for-profit organizations or charities. This not only allows you to hone your skills, but it allows you to build relationships, which is the most important, and it sets you up for future success.
If you really want to lead, fill the gap. In fact, where is one place you can fill the gap today and how will you do it?