In full candor, I have not always been the best at networking and following up at professional conferences…and I have been to a ton of them. Several years ago, I began changing my approach and becoming more intentional with this process.
Here are five simple, yet effective tips I have adopted that may provide a nugget or two of wisdom for you:
- Do some pre-work. Identify the top three to five people you would like to have a conversation with before you pass. Research them, check out their LinkedIn, and, if possible, see if you can schedule some time together. This could be a breakfast, coffee, drink, or a walk – just something simple. Be proactive. Remember that less is more. Stay focused on the top three to five people. If you are able to set appointments with them, then book some more.
- Protect the asset (and you are the asset). I am fond of saying that as leaders, we need to protect the asset. You and other leaders are one of the primary assets of the organization. Most conferences are intentionally held in fun places and typically offer great events. Embrace these and have fun. If it is a multi-day event, it is important to stay rested, eat healthy, and make sure to schedule some decompression time so that you can be just as present for the last conversation as you were for the first.
- Shake things up. I was a speaker at the last conference I attended. It was a great experience; however, the usual group of people I go with was not there. I was solo in a sea of people, many with groups of friends from around the world. I knew some folks, yet for most of the meals, mixers, or events, I purposefully sought out individuals sitting by themselves or a group that had an open seat. I always asked if I could join, and resoundingly, it was always well-received. I can safely say that I stumbled into a few conversations in this manner, and they just happened to be the most productive conversations I had over the entire event. These discussions might not have happened if I had been in a group with my cronies.
- Be curious and be present. I believe the “busyness” and noise of the world has pushed many, if not most of us, into conversations and engagements that are very shallow, self-serving, and unfortunately, meaningless. I have specifically transitioned from trying to talk to a lot of people about surface-level things to focusing and engaging as deeply and as curiously as I can with one person at a time. I encourage you to start by doing everything you can to look into the other person’s soul and be there for them. Ask questions and truly try to learn from them. I have found this one step to be immensely productive and valuable. In the past, I would greet five people and never really connect with any of them. However, once I shifted to being 100% present with whomever I engage, the relationships grew and solidified.
- Follow-up matters. I gather business cards or take photos of the badge of the folks I meet. Each night, I enter the contact information into my contacts file (ideally, you can add their photo and any notes about your conversation). Janine, my assistant, does an amazing job of helping me with this. By utilizing this method, you can stay fresh and remember what was discussed, what is important to them, how you can be of value to them, how you can help them, and if you had any specific next steps that were mutually agreed upon. When you return, reach out with a humble note and include something intimate from your conversation by providing detailed next steps to keep the conversation moving (or not). Placing your thinking in how you can be of service and value for others is a great place to start.
I realize these are fairly simple steps, but I can assure you that if you practice them, you are likely to get much more out of your conferences or events.
If you have a special approach or ritual around networking or follow-up, I would love to hear about it!