A conference is an incredible opportunity to build relationships with extraordinary people, people who might have significant impact on your professional or personal success. To maximize the return on your (and your organization’s) investment of time and money, you can’t afford to be a conference commoner. You have to be a Conference Commando. I know: It sounds a little cheesy. It’s good to laugh at yourself sometimes. But please, read on, because these tips are not only sincere, they’re important.
1. Remember the 5 P’s
Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. Military strategists know that most battles are won before the first shot is fired. The side that determines where, when, and how an engagement is fought usually gains an insurmountable advantage. So get focused.
Take time weeks before the conference to think through and write down why you are attending. What do you want to achieve? Who do you want to meet? The more clearly you articulate what you want and need from the conference, the more likely you can plan and execute your mission.
2. Know Your Targets
Get the list of conference attendees. Call the conference organizers, ask your friends who are going if they know of other attendees, whatever it takes. Then go through the list and note those you want to meet. Keep that list with you at all times during the conference (including at social events) so you know whom you’ve met and whom you still need to meet.
3. Gather Intelligence
If you want to truly get to know someone in a short time frame, the work starts before you’re even in the room. Research their business. Google them. Even call up their administrative assistant. You’re looking for two kinds of intel: First, issues and interests around which you can connect. Do they have kids? Volunteer? Play tournament Parcheesi? Look for shared passions. Second, you’re looking for intel that tells you how you can help them. What aspects of your experience, knowledge, contacts, or resources could help make them more successful? How can you be generous? The fact that you’ve done your homework doesn’t have to be a secret. When you meet your target contact, say, “I always make a special effort to inquire about the people I’d like to meet.” Inevitably, people are flattered. Wouldn’t you be?
4. Strike Early
Don’t wait for the conference to start your networking. A week or two beforehand, pick up the phone and call at least the top three people you want to be sure to meet. (And no whiny excuses about not being able to find their coordinates. This is the information age!)
Begin your conversations now and/or arrange a time for when you arrive at the conference. Can’t get past their gatekeepers? Surprise them with an email or a voice message when they arrive at the conference and save them from spending the night alone in their rooms most likely in the very hotel where you’re staying! Say, “I’ll be downstairs at 8 with a few people for drinks and dinner. Would you like to join us?”
5. Never Attend a Conference
Well, never just attend a conference. You should be sure to speak, too, even if your name isn’t on the program. While keynote speakers are given hour-long infomercials for their brands, you can acquire a 30-second commercial for yours just by asking a thoughtful question during Q&A. Stand tall, say your name and what you do, and ask a great question. Then enjoy your temporary celebrity status after the session. People will be eager to approach you once you’ve been introduced in a public forum.
6. Slight the Speakers
Don’t waste time standing in line to meet a speaker after his or her song and dance. There will be so many other brilliant people at the conference; go meet them! If you must meet the speakers, approach them before their talks, before they have captivated the crowd’s attention and adoration.
7. Get a Wingman
Just as people lose weight more effectively if they have a workout partner, you’ll get farther faster in your efforts if you team up. You and your buddy can provide each other motivation, guidance, and assistance if you share with each other your real reasons for attending the conference, whether it’s to look for a new job or to fill your sales pipeline. Wouldn’t it be great to show up to the conference with somebody who’s actually on your side, who’s got your back, who’s working with you? Then you can bust both your butts to make the conference the biggest possible success.
8. Draft Off a Big Kahuna
Get to know some of the most well-known folks at the conference or the conference organizers themselves and hang with them. The important people will rotate by them sooner or later. If you’re there, you’ll meet everyone who matters. And if you need to reach out to someone who doesn’t happen to swing by, ask your new friend “ a big kahuna “ for an introduction. Chances are, they know them.
9. Be an Info-Hub
Get really familiar with the conference program. Then pick the brains of conference staff and anyone else willing to share the ins and outs of what’s happening in and around the big meeting. If you’re in the loop on the private parties and after-hours special events, everyone will come to you for the intel.
10. Work Hard on Break
Don’t run off to stuff your face or check e-mail between sessions. You should attend to your bagel and BlackBerry while boring speakers are blabbing on and on, so when break time comes, you can get out there and do what you really came to the conference to do…“ meet people!