Conferences provide a one-of-a-kind forum for gaining knowledge, improving tactics for life and business, and honing professional skills. But perhaps more important than all of these is a concept that often goes overlooked: Conferences are the ideal location to meet your tribe. By connecting with other attendees, you can become a force of nature, prepared to tackle your goals and dreams while helping others achieve theirs. In his runaway bestseller, Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi calls this being a “conference commando.”
Unlike wallflowers, who allow themselves to hide in the farthest row during sessions and disappear during breaks, conference commandos own their event experience. They’ve done their research, planned ahead, and now, they’re ready to network like it’s never been done before.
As Ferrazzi puts it, “Turning a conference into your own turf and setting goals ahead of time is what shifts a casual conference attendance into a mission.”
Here’s what you need to know to turn your next conference into an unforgettable—and invaluable—experience.
1. Lend a Hand
No doubt about it: Conferences are challenging to pull off. Herding speakers, attendees, volunteers, technical equipment, meticulously designed brochures and pamphlets, banners, and other necessities into one carefully chosen venue is no small task. But lucky for the event organizer, you know just how to help.
Offer to share your time, skills, network, or something totally different. See a need and meet it.
After digging deep into the conference materials, visit the website to scope out the contact information for the event organizer. Give him a call a few months in advance, notice how bogged down he sounds, and explain how thrilled you would be to lend a hand. Offer to share your time, skills, network, or something totally different. See a need and meet it. “I guarantee the coordinator will be shocked with delight,” Ferrazzi writes.
Lending a hand at conferences is a surefire way to become an insider. You’ll learn about attendees long before they arrive and know exactly where to find all the VIP events. Those unlisted cocktail parties and dinners? Those are your domain now. Go big.
2. Use Your Voice
How often do you find yourself idolizing those who speak onstage? If you’re anything like the general population, it’s easy to put speakers on a pedestal, deeming them holy and revered.
In reality, not all speechmakers sit at the top of their respective fields, and—believe it or not—they’re just like you: human.
Becoming a recognized speaker is not as difficult as you might think, and despite the fear that may feel crippling to you right now, public speaking is a necessary skill. We can all benefit from the ability to clearly deliver a message to an attentive audience. Greater success in life and business is rooted in this one action. Ferrazzi encourages:
Giving speeches is one of the easiest and most effective ways to get yourself, your business, and your ideas seen, heard of, and remembered, and you don’t need to be Tony Robbins to find yourself a forum of people willing to hear you out.
Before you try to talk yourself out of it, remember that the opportunity to speak publicly exists everywhere. The more you practice, the more fun you’ll have, until your joy becomes infectious. Audiences will leave your sessions with that same “conference high” you feel when you board your plane after an event. And there’s no better way to meet people than through public speaking. “Instant credibility” and “faux fame” will take you places, according to Ferrazzi.
Start with honest, valuable content and work your way up from there. Develop a speech about your niche market, and then use your new connection with the event organizer to its full potential. Ask him for a room during an off-hour and organize a small group of individuals to whom you can give your speech. Do this at every conference you attend, and you’ll quickly notice your reach expanding and your speaking skills refining.
3. Branch Out
What conference agenda?
A ringing bell hasn’t dictated your life since high school, and it’s not making a reappearance now. Your next conference is practically an invitation to organize your own informal discussion or dinner party. In other words: It’s time to branch out.
It may sound forward, but such invitations are usually well-received after a long day of travel. Everybody needs dinner, so why not make it special?
Before the event begins, locate a well-rated nearby restaurant and send out invitations to a private dinner party. A simple way to go about this is to send a fax to the hotel where the VIPs are staying and have said fax delivered to them upon their arrival. It may sound forward, but such invitations are usually well-received after a long day of travel. Everybody needs dinner, so why not make it special?
On the other hand, if dinner and drinks sound too stuffy, personally plan a tour of the city for VIPs, far away from the crowd of wallflower conference-goers being herded through generic destinations like shoppers at Ikea. You came all this way, so make the most of it.
4. Locate the Spotlight
You know who they are—the most popular people at the conference. After all, you’ve seen the VIP list. Now, it’s your job to track them down.
These spotlighted individuals know everyone, and by networking with them, you will, too.
“Popular,” in this instance, equates to “connected.” And that’s what you’re here for—connections. These spotlighted individuals know everyone, and by networking with them, you will, too. Keynote speakers and name-brand CEOs are just an introduction away. Don’t miss out on this opportunity.
Arrive early for sessions and stand near the main entrances for a chance to meet the speaker. Be prepared with a brief introduction of yourself and your work, and don’t be offended if your conversation is rushed. You can always follow up with them later.
5. Be a Source of Information
Be more valuable than the event brochure.
Trade gossip? You have that covered. The best local restaurants? You scoped them out. Private parties? Sure, you can get into those.
Know the big and small names and out-of-the-way locations. Make yourself indispensable.
6. Become a Social Media Mogul
Before the conference begins, develop a list of influencers who will be present, and follow them on Twitter. Tagging them in their tweetable quotes during their sessions will be a breeze.
Don’t forget to use and follow hashtags relevant to the event so you can stay up-to-date as the conference unfolds. Take pictures of the people you meet, the places you visit, and the action along the way to share on your social platforms (and to keep as memories!).
Most importantly, become a chronic note-taker so you can share about your conference experience on your blog or Facebook without leaving out any of the gory details. And do it on the plane home while everyone is still reeling from that conference high. Sharing your happy memories will help with the much-less-fun conference hangover.
7. Own Your Two Minutes
Believe it or not, your most important weapon at any conference boils down to two minutes—and that’s if you’re lucky.
You have no more than two minutes from the time you “bump into” someone to earn an invitation to reconnect at a later date. This is the make-it-or-break-it networking scenario for which you came.
“The perfect bump is one that feels both fast and meaningful at the same time. I call this ideal a ‘deep bump,’” says Ferrazzi.
The goal is to make contact, make a heart-to-heart connection, and move on to your next target.
The goal here is not to make a best friend (though, props if you do). The goal is to make contact, make a heart-to-heart connection, and move on to your next target. You don’t have time to meet everyone at the conference, but you’ll want to introduce yourself to as many as you can. Keeping your intro time to two minutes will make this a more feasible goal.
Remember: Genuine connections are made through a listening ear and heartfelt discernment. Ask questions about your new contact—not just their job—and be willing to share a bit about yourself, too. Build trust now. Sell your product later.
8. Have a Shortlist
Now that you’ve started networking, it’s clear that there are a lot of valuable connections at this conference and not a lot of time for you to meet them all. This is why you need a shortlist.
Before the conference kicks off, form a list of the few people who you would most like to meet over the course of the event. Cross them off as you encounter them and keep track of what you talk about with each person so you can follow up with them later.
Don’t forget: you don’t have much time to introduce yourself, so make a good value proposition.
9. Zero Breaks
According to Ferrazzi, “Breaks are where the real work happens at a conference.”
Put yourself in a heavily populated area, and go for the “deep bump.” The refreshment table, bar, and reception area are all great locations to test out your new secret weapon.
10. Follow Through
Too many connections are lost through lack of professional communication. If you promise to follow up with someone, be sure to follow through on that promise.
If you have some downtime between sessions, grab yourself a coffee and write a few follow-up emails while recent conversations are still fresh in your mind. If you’re too busy bumping, write them on the flight home. And if you want to get really fancy, write a note to each speaker, even if you didn’t get to meet them all.
11. Don’t Lose Focus
It’s easy to get swept away in the chaos of conference sessions, but don’t forget your reason for being here: to make genuine connections. The sessions may be interesting, but the people attending them are far more unique, and what you learn from them is what will stick with you long after the conference has ended.
Ready to Become a Conference Commando?
Want to try this approach for yourself? We have the perfect event for you.
FEEcon 2019 is the ideal conference for networking with industry leaders, scholars, coders, philanthropists, students, and professionals. It’s a three-day journey of discovery, connection, empowerment, and fun.
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The party starts on June 13 at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis. We hope to see you there!