After my recent series here on Networking at Conferences, I received a number of questions from folks who wanted just a bit more guidance on specific aspects of making the most of their conference experience. So I thought I’d wrap up the series by answering some of the most popular and interesting questions in hopes that they can help others as well.
“I’m so shy. How do I approach people and break the ice?”
- First of all, remember that everyone at the conference is there to meet people, so if a fear of rejection is keeping you in your shell, put it aside. Everyone you try to talk to is going to be nice and on their best behavior.
- Start small. Introduce yourself to the person sitting next to you at the break out session or at lunch. Simply stick out your hand and say hello. It’s that easy.
- Take the focus off of yourself by focusing on getting to know the other person. Ask questions about what brought her to the conference and what she’s enjoyed about the day so far.
“I get tongue-tied when it comes to giving my elevator pitch. What do you recommend?”
- Three words. Prepare, prepare, prepare. You know you’re going to be saying it over and over again all day long, so why not take a bit of time BEFORE the conference to perfect it, rather than put pressure on yourself to deliver it spontaneously? That way, even when your brain is tired at the end of the day, you can still give your pitch flawlessly because it’s part of your subconscious (like saying your phone number).
- Work on both content AND delivery. You need to find the right combination of words to describe what you do and what you’re looking for, and you need to put them together in a concise way. A good pitch shouldn’t last more than 20 seconds tops, and it should sound smooth when you say it.
- Don’t worry that your pitch might sound too canned if you practice it too much. What might sound over-rehearsed to you, will likely come across as confidence to the person you’re talking to.
“People tell me I come across as too aggressive. How should I handle that?”
- Part of successfully communicating with others in any arena is being able to adapt your style so you can build rapport.You might believe that if people don’t like you for who you are, you don’t want to do business with them anyway. While Donald Trump might be able to get away with that at this stage of his career, it’s crucial at the start of YOUR career to build as many allies as you can.
- Find out what folks mean when they say that you’re “too aggressive.” Are you asking for too much? Are you asking for it too soon? Are you too focused on getting what you want, and not doing enough to learn about what the other person may want? Their answers will help you pin down what you might need to adjust in your style.
“I’m looking for a job. What’s the best way to work the conference as a job seeker?”
- Be crystal clear about what you’re looking for. If you know exactly the kind of position you want and the kinds of companies, or even specific names of companies that you would like to work for, the easier it will be for people to reach into their Rolodexes to help you.
- Don’t hand out your resume. First, it will probably get lost in the shuffle of papers that every conference attendee has to juggle and will probably throw away later. Second, sending material, whether it be a resume or marketing brochure, is a great excuse to follow up later. You might end the conversation by saying, “Would you mind if I sent you my resume in case you come across something that might be a fit?”
- If the companies you’re interested in are exhibiting at the conference, stop at their booths to collect materials and ask questions. While you’re unlikely to find someone there who will be in a position to hire you, you can get some excellent scoop on what’s going on in terms of major initiatives and what it’s like to work there. Should you end up interviewing at the company later, you’ll have some great insights.