Although conferences are a great way to learn about your industry and hear people you admire speak, you may be coming away from yours with less value than you anticipated. Part of the problem may be in both your approach and your expectations. Too often we make the mistake of using the opportunity to make a sale, find investors or – even worse – as a source for a job-hunting excursion for our employees.
Conferences are about creating opportunity, but not in the way you imagine. Solid, sustainable business contacts and networks build slowly over time, and making the right impression at a conference is key. These are the top three behaviors that can give you a great ROI for you effort.
1. Focus on making connections, not sales
Don’t make the mistake of hoping to wow your mentor with a 30-minute pitch for your fabulous new joint business or product idea. No matter how genuinely great your pitch may be, this is the wrong time and place to present it. You’ll come off as overly aggressive, intense or opportunistic.
Conventions are a more relaxed, casual atmosphere, and your behavior should reflect that. The idea is to connect on a more interpersonal level, and then as the relationship grows, you can move on to business. Use the convention to plant the seeds for this future growth. This also a good time to solidify contacts you’ve made at past conferences. Go out of your way to introduce or reintroduce yourself, but take care to be genuine about it.
2. Do your homework
This goes hand-in-hand with point number one, and it’s a good way to get remembered when your connection is trying to think of the right person to consult with on a future enterprise or even to make up a fourth for an upcoming golf outing. Learn as much as you can about speakers or attendees you want to connect with, and use that information strategically. It will also help keep you from becoming tongue-tied or forgetting important points when you do get a chance to chat.
3. Mingle strategically
Conferences are crowded and busy, and popular speakers may not have much time for in-depth conversation with every person in attendance. Doing your homework ahead of time may buy you a little extra face-time, but first you have to get close enough to pull it off. Meet and greet lines directly after the speaker has finished are no good. Wait until after, when everyone is relaxed and mingling, then look for points where almost everyone in attendance will pass at some point in the evening, and then make your move.
GovNet publications and similar guides are an invaluable resource for locating industry-related conferences, conventions and other opportunities to network. Conferences are a great way to meet mentors, get an inside track on trends in your industry and connect with peers. Many successful politicians, entrepreneurs and executives gain the majority of their business connections through people they meet at conferences and conventions. But, they’re only as beneficial as the effort you put into them. The old adage to work smarter, not harder applies to business networking, too. If you learn how to make your future conferences work for you, it may be the best thing you’ve ever done to advance your business.