You must have attended a conference or other or must be planning to attend one in near future. Even if you don’t plan to, chances are that you might find yourself in one because of professional obligations. Most people see a conference as an opportunity to travel, meet and greet people or just present a paper. Consequently, they add a line in their CV stating the achievement of presenting a paper at a prestigious conference. Is that the best you can get from a conference? Networking guru of this century Keith Ferrazi, author of legendary Never Eat Alone has a very different take on it, which I am going to share with you.
Conferences are great because they always bring together a host of people from an industry or area of study who matter. A smart networker will, therefore, see a conference less as an academic meeting, and more as an excellent place to build a network and make your presence felt amongst people in your field.
Conferences provide a forum to meet like-minded people who can help you to fulfill your mission and goals.
In Keith Ferrazi’s words, don’t be just an attendee in a conference but be a conference commando. Attending a conference is an investment of your time, energy and skill and very often substantial money. You must seek some result from such investment. So, what results can you get? Look out to build relationships that will last beyond the conference, and strategise as to how can it help you to succeed. If the conference does not help you to achieve this, don’t attend it.
The challenge is to meet the shakers and movers of the area of study or industry who are coming to the conference. However, practically speaking, meeting them or building a relationship with them is not going to be easy. Why should they talk to you or pay you any attention? Well, they will if you are a conference commando. Here are some of the ways you can make this happen.
Help the organizer
Organizing a conference is a cumbersome task. There are thousand things to take care of in a conference, from inviting guests, arranging the venue, various facilities etc. If your friend or acquaintance is one among the organizer, excellent! you can certainly offer your help in inviting people, arranging myriad things. What to do otherwise? Look through the website of conference, people who are responsible for organizing, call them few months in advance, let them that you are really looking forward to this conference, offer your help in organizing conference, be it in form of your connections, resources etc. This will also make it more likely that you can get a panel or speakers list since you are on the inside and the organizers are thankful to you for your help.
Once you are into it, you know who the invitees are, what do they do, who they are, what are the events. That certainly helps in getting to know people. Since you are one among the organizers, you get a better chance to interact with people, and they have a reason to talk to you and if nothing else, thank you for your help and support. That is an excellent point to start building a relationship.
If you are attending a conference, speak in it
Speaking in a conference is one of the most effective ways to get yourself, your business, and your ideas seen, heard of, and remembered. Being a speaker, gives you a special status, people see you speaking, they get to know who you are, you attain instant credibility and faux-fame that makes it easier to meet people.
Even if you are not a speaker, there are various other opportunities to make your presence felt. For instance, when the session opens up for questions, try and be among the first people to raise your hand. A really well-formed and insightful question offers you an opportunity to get seen by the entire audience. Be sure to introduce yourself, what you do, and then ask a question that leaves the audience buzzing. Ideally, the question should be related to your expertise so you have something to say when someone reverts back to you or ask a question. Don’t pester with questions, don’t ask questions that expose your ignorance and dis-interest, otherwise asking questions will backfire.
Organize a conference within a conference
Who says that conference is limited to the formal discussion and formal party arranged by the organizer? You can always have an informal discussion on the topic that interests you and group of similar minded people. You can organize your own parties, meet people, and invite them over dinner. People generally appreciate that. This way you interact more closely, get to know people personally and this leads to greater exchange of knowledge and information.
Get to know the big shots
Figure out who are the luminaries attending the conference. Arrive few minutes early for the conference. Stand in a place where you can easily get to see them and introduce yourself or “stumble upon” them, don’t lose your time and balance when you bump! Immediately pass a bright smile, make eye contact, introduce yourself.
Know the details about the conference, people generally tend to forget or ignore the timings and program details of the conference. Make sure you know these, so much so that if someone asks you a question about these you can answer at once. Know about the local places and the restaurants of the city where the conference is organized, it’s unlikely that people will not want to be friends with such an information directory kind of person!
Way too many people in conferences wait to be approached and spoken to. This is the second worst crime after just thrusting business cards into people’s hands without building a context or creating a connection. Being passive at a conference may work for people who already attract attention for being recognizable celebrities. For most mortals, it is better to not attend than just being passive attendee in a conference. At the same time, you need to be relevant. What works best is advocating for a cause, demand a change, becoming a rallying point for other people to ask for a positive improvement over status quo. Speaking the truth where few people dare to is a great way to shape conversations, and it is a great thing to do at conferences. If more people did so, conferences would not remain the boring and dead forums they usually are.
Follow these rules, you will surely get to know a lot of people in the conference, don’t forget to follow up. Be a conference commando!