I recently had a client receive free passes to a coveted industry conference. She was not sure how to prepare to get most out of the day.
You should always have business cards. There are two different kinds; personal and business. Which do you take?
Depends on who is paying and our objectives for attending the conference. If the company is paying and you intend to stay at your current company for the time being, always give out your company business card. If you are quietly looking for something new, then give out your company business card. Only use the personal business card when you are not worried about anyone at your current employer finding out that your are looking or you are out of work.
Many smaller niche conferences will give you a list of attendees. You can also contact the organizer ahead of time and ask them if they would be willing to give you the names of attendees.
The plan should be to scour the attendee list for key people that work for companies on your target list. A good goal is to plan to meet at least one person from each company on your target list. You want a list of individuals that you can look out for on the day of the conference.
Review the agenda and determine which conference speakers you would like to meet. Prepare several salient questions that you could ask the speaker that will demonstrate your knowledge of the topic. Be prepared to ask for A-I-R (Advice, Insights and Recommends).
Day of Event
Arrive early and plan your day. Pick the sessions you plan to attend with an eye for topics where key people that work for companies on your target list might be attending.
This is kind of like being a teenager again. When you wanted to meet a certain girl you would hang out where you thought she would be. Same thing here. Where will the people you want to meet be hanging out?
Make sure your name tag is easy to read and placed on the right shoulder. I like to attach it to my collar on the right side of my body.
If there is a speaker that is of particular importance to your career, arrive early for the session and sit in the front row. Do not sit in the back row!!
If possible, introduce yourself to the speaker before the session and give them a business card. Be careful to not interfere with their session preparations. When the session is complete, you can approach the speaker with the salient questions you previously prepared.
Take notes on business cards on where and when you met each person.
Lunch and Breaks
Do not eat lunch with people you know. Seek out tables where key people that work for companies on your target list might be sitting. At worse case, randomly pick a place to sit. You never know who might sit down next to you!
The day after the conference, sort through all of the business cards and select key individuals that you need to follow up with. If possible, send them a handwritten thank you note and insert your business card in the envelope. Yes, this is old school but when they receive it, they will open it and your business card is no longer just another card in the stack but it is right in front of them on their desk!
Send LinkedIn connection requests to everyone you met, and schedule follow up meetings with key individuals.
Conferences are a great way to make initial contact with key individuals who can help you with your career.
Real networking does not happen at conferences but the real networking comes afterwards in the follow up meetings.
Check out my book Repurpose Your Career – A Practical Guide for Baby Boomers