Though numbers may be down this year due to the economy, according to Meetings & Conventions magazine, more than 27 million people attend conferences, trade shows, and conventions each year. And the main reason they go is to network.
It’s no surprise then that in their brochures and on their websites, conference organizers take great pains to stress the fantastic networking opportunities the event provides.
While last week’s post covered some of the preparation work you can do BEFORE you arrive at the conference to help you focus and maximize your time, this week’s post will help you engage in more productive conversations once you’re there!
Unless you’re attending a true industry buying event where the purpose is to bring buyers and sellers together to place orders and get deals done, most conferences are set up more for information sharing and connecting. In those cases, people are rarely primed to buy.
No one is walking around thinking, “I’m really in the mood to hire a consultant today” or “I’m not leaving until I spend millions on computer software.” So avoid turning your conversations into sales pitches, even if you know for certain that you can help.
Better to use the face-to-face time with other participants to establish a genuine connection by asking questions and understanding what their goals are, rather than talking about your company and your services ad nauseum. The purpose is to make an impression as a helpful resource, someone with whom they’d like to continue the conversation, not as a used car salesman ready to pounce.
Focus your discussions
Connections happen through conversation, but if you’re not prepared, most of your discussions will consist primarily of small talk. While some of this is necessary to get the ball rolling, too much won’t advance your relationship very far.
After building rapport with someone, you want to move quickly into more interesting territory. Ask questions about what brings them to the conference and what they’re looking for. People love to talk about themselves and find it easy to do so, so there won’t be much work for you but to listen.
Then once it’s your turn, you can share your own objectives on what you hope to accomplish at the conference. Perhaps you’ll discover commonalities, ways you can help each other, or possibilities to make connections to other folks in your respective networks.
Get the right people to come to you
No matter how hard you work the event, you can’t possibly get to every person you need to meet. You can be much more efficient with your time, however, by attracting the right people to you. One way to do this is by asking a question in one of the presentation sessions. But don’t just ask the question. Use a quick five-second intro to preface it.
A gentleman in one of my workshops tried this during the Q&A session of a conference seminar. He raised his hand, stood up and said, “My name is Bob Smith with The Mergers & Acquisitions Company (note: name and company changed). We help privately-held businesses find an exit strategy, and my question is…” then he launched into his question.
He said that after the session, five people approached him and he got business from three of them. Why? People knew what he did, his question was smart, and he sounded confident. He never would have found those specific people on his own in the room of 200, so he did something to make them seek him out. They self-selected, making his job a lot easier.
You can do the same thing. All it takes is some prep work before the conference to pick the keynote or breakout session most likely to attract your biggest target audience, develop your intro (make sure it’s short!) and question tied to the topic (make sure it’s relevant!), and practice so you speak effortlessly and forcefully. Then stand back and watch what happens.
Next week, I’ll finish up this 3-part series with a few more strategies to take your conference networking to the next level.
Liz Lynch is founder of the Center for Networking Excellence and author of Smart Networking: Attract a Following In Person and Online (McGraw-Hill, 2008). She writes, speaks and consults to experienced professionals on how to seamlessly integrate social media and traditional networking to save time and accelerate results.