Conferences: Not The Time To Be Mousy
Conferences can be intimidating. There is something about them that requires its own strategy for success. These events are not the time and place to be shy. What have you got to lose?
Here are four tips to make sure you leave a conference without thinking to yourself “Darn, I wish I had…”
Stalk the invitee list. Prep beforehand.
People don’t do this enough. The “Oh, you work at ___!” card can be whimsical at first but it is much more impressive when you have clearly done your homework. Narrow down the attendee list to find out who are some targets you would like to meet. Find out which office location they are coming from and what their role is. If you want to take it a step further, you can read some of the latest news articles about the firm.
Most recently, I didn’t recognize the name of an individual from a company, but I knew a bit about the firm to say, “You guys have offices in X, Y and Z right? Which are you based out of? How was your flight? I heard XYZ is in the works/just closed/happened recently, how has that been going for you?” The name badges are key. Don’t be afraid to glance at it purposefully and repeat the name when meeting the person.
Introduce yourself first. Don’t wait.
There are always going to be cliques at conferences. There are going to be circles of buddies who use it as a catch-up session on their lives. While that’s great and all, you are there to be productive and bring back something meaningful to the office. You want follow-ups. That’s not going to happen by you standing around pretending to look at important e-mails on your phone. Walk towards smaller groups or pairs and literally interrupt. Not rudely, just casually.
Scan the room for a conversation where the body language has folded arms, more space in between the people and boom, there’s your target. They’re just dying for an interruption! Make your move with a confident “Hi! I’m ____” and let the rest flow naturally. Apologize if you must, but likely, they will welcome it, especially when it’s with a big smile.
Get tea/coffee 3x more than you normally would.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met people while getting my third tea of the morning at the drinks station. Now I don’t drink coffee (but I do drink tea) but I’ve turned this into small talk opportunity. While I am choosing my tea packet, I look over and pull a line along the line of “Oh sorry! Just grabbing the honey” or “We’re the tea people, huh!” or the "it's freezing in here! This will help warm us up!" and then slide in the “Hi! I’m ____.”
For coffee drinkers, it may be best to fill that cup up a third or halfway each time instead. Either way, make the coffee break an excuse to “bump” into new people.
Be the first to offer your business card - even halfway through conversation
This is a good way to formalize the conversation. This shows your professionalism and you’re not just there to be buddies. While it’s nice to make friends, remember it’s about building your professional network and follow-ups. A lot of times, people will pull the “Excuse me, I have to take a call/go to the bathroom” and then you don’t see them again. Asking halfway will reduce the chances of you not getting their business card.
As soon as you have a chance, write down something memorable about that person on the business card so you don’t forget. It can be something personal like “has daughter that loves horses” or commercial “interested in investing in emerging markets” - whatever it takes for you to remember them because those business cards will undoubtedly stack up. If it’s appropriate, use that distinction in your follow-up email. It helps to make YOU more memorable.
We hope these tips will make conferences a little less intimidating and a bit more approachable. Remember, the key is to jump in and just start chatting about anything! Over time, you will find a method that feels natural. Everyone at the event wants to have meaningful conversation and will appreciate you “making the first move.”