Conference season is coming up fast, kicking off with next week’s Buy Yorkshire event at the Royal Armouries in Leeds. Are you a seasoned conference veteran who knows how to work the room? Or do you sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed by the size of an event? Here are a few tips for you to make the most of your conference experience.
1. Start networking before you even get to the conference. If there is an attendee list available, check it for names of people and companies you would like to connect with. Make yourself a wishlist of the key names as, let’s face it, you’re not really going to make contact with a few thousand people. Check their social media profiles, starting with LinkedIn and Twitter; start following delegates on Twitter so you can see which events they will be attending. Many people will be live tweeting during the conference so you will be able to connect with them in real time.
2. If you’re attending a seminar and want to ask a question, take some time to research the speakers’ social media. Finding out about their wider work will help you to plan your questions beforehand; a unique question is more likely to be selected.
3. Do you need to update your social media profiles? If you meet someone at the conference and say you work for ‘X Co’ but your LinkedIn profile still says you work for ‘Y Co’, what impression will that give a new potential contact when they check you out after the conference? While you’re doing this, check to see if your photo needs updating so people may actually recognise you at the conference; ditch the photo with ski goggles. My dilemma for next week is whether to post a new photo or shave my newly acquired beard off!
4. More conferences are developing apps to enable you to get the best out of your sessions; use these to see who is attending which seminars and link in with other delegates beforehand. Likewise, check to see if there’s a LinkedIn group or Facebook page where you can contribute to the discussion and connect.
5. Don’t forget your existing contacts. Conferences are a great opportunity for strengthening existing relationships, not just for making new ones. Schedule catch-ups over a coffee or beer; don’t just hope to “run into them”, which is very unlikely at a large conference with dozens of seminars and thousands of visitors. Remember, this is a great time for you to introduce your contacts to each other. Be a connector at conferences; your contacts will then want to connect you to theirs.
6. Also, it’s not just about the people you already know or feel you should know: don’t forget to talk to everyone you come across. Some of the best relationships start by chance, whether with the person you just happen to sit next to at a seminar or are queuing with at the bar. Again, be a connector for your new contact: who should they meet? If you introduce them to someone, chances are they’ll do the same.
7. Following up after the conference is key. As well as following a new contact on Twitter or LinkedIn, make a brief post about your conversation with them or the great things they’re doing with their business. Promoting other people will create value for them and builds your relationship.
8. You’ll probably find you can’t attend all the seminars you want to, so start a discussion on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter to discuss the ideas that you came across in the ones you attended; encourage others to do the same for the ones they went to.
9. A key rule of making new connections is: don’t sell. We’ve all been given the “elevator speech” within seconds of meeting someone for the first time. Have a conversation with them; ask them questions about themselves first. (That’s not to say a crisp description of who you are isn’t important; just don’t launch into it straightaway).
10. Finally, put down your phone, BlackBerry, laptop. You’re at a conference to meet real, live people so don’t spend breaks staring at a screen. Connect! If you’re going to the Buy Yorkshire conference, I’ll be in the “Bar Mafia” each evening so please come and say hello. You can find me at Stuart Clarke or on Twitter. P.S. Don’t forget your business cards! Stuart Clarke is Head of Corporate Relationships at TD Direct Investing.