TMA Arizona Chapter Public Relations committee members Kathleen Taddie and Jeremy Goodman have put together the following helpful article on making the most out of your conference experience.
A primary reason to attend conferences is to network. Yet, many attendees leave conferences with a binder and CD—but no meaningful contacts. Even if you don't enjoy socializing, the benefits of networking at conferences are immense. Conferences are an opportunity to meet people who can give you new ideas, make introductions for you, send you referrals and even become clients.
Below are some tips to help you get the most out of your next conference experience.
- Strategize. Before you step foot into a conference, you should have already thought about the individuals that you want to meet, the speakers you want to hear, and the information you are hoping to learn. By planning ahead, you will take away from a conference precisely what you were seeking rather than whatever you happen to stumble upon.
- Socialize. Do not be afraid to talk to the people in close proximity to you as you walk into a seminar. Even a simple “hello” has the potential to turn into windows of opportunity later during the week of the conference or even months down the road.
- Listen. Many people are far more interested in talking about themselves than they are in having a truly informative conversation. So, listen, and then ask critical questions to help them to migrate from small talk into more effective and mutually beneficial conversation.
- Power Down. As heartbreaking as turning off your BlackBerry may be, it is crucial to give it a break while you are on breaks at the conference. When your face is buried in your Smartphone it sends a message to the people around you that you are unapproachable. While on breaks, speak with others; there is plenty of time to check your emails back in your room.
- Follow Up. Every once in a while you will meet some very interesting people at a conference. The chances that you are going to run into them at the coffee shop after the conference are slim to none. So make sure to follow up when you meet someone who genuinely sparks your interest. If you do not make the effort to follow up with them, chances are they are not going to make the effort to follow up with you either. It can be as simple as sending them an email. If you do not follow up with someone then it may have been pointless getting to know them in the first place.
- Don’t Get Star Struck. Everyone enjoys meeting famous speakers and important people. Do not spend all of your time trying to get close to the speakers. Chances are that the people with whom you are going to create the most mutually beneficial relationships are other conference attendees. Make sure that your business card ends up in the hands of the other attendees, and not stacked among the hundreds of other business cards that the celebrity speakers will receive during the conference.
- Get To The Point. Conferences move quickly, and so do the attendees. Make sure to skip some of the small talk and get to your point quickly. If you are new to the game and feel intimidated or worried, practice in the mirror. This, along with prior research into a particular person’s business, will lead to far more valuable conversations.
- Take Notes. It may sound like an overplayed study tip from school, but the reality is that we simply cannot remember everything that we hear during a conference. So pick up a pen or your iPad and jot down the things that seem important.
- The Early Bird Gets The Worm. Get to events early. Not only does this show that you are punctual, but it shows you are truly interested, and you can meet people as they arrive—which is considerably more fun that working your way into a crowded room. If you arrive later you will have to overcome the obstacle of inviting yourself into conversations, instead of being involved in them from the beginning.
- No, really, STRATEGIZE! A great networking conference starts with planning ahead. If you know people who are attending the event, contact them, make an introduction by phone or email, and make plans in advance to meet with them at a set place and time at the conference. If you do not know who is attending, contact the sponsors for an attendee list.
Kathleen Taddie is president of Kathleen A. Taddie Consulting LLC, and Chair of the TMA Arizona Chapter Public Relations Committee. She can be reached at 602-920-4573 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Jeremy Goodman is a banking and bankruptcy attorney at Goodman Law PLLC, and a member of the TMA Arizona Chapter Public Relations Committee. He can be reached at 602-476-1114 or email@example.com.