For those of us who are industry dinosaurs, you take this skill for granted. But here are a few must-do’s before, during and after attending an industry event that will make the most of your investment in time and money.
Before the Event
Set goals – too many people ‘just show up’ and don’t get anything out of the event. If the attendee list is available, pre-screen it and target 10 people to approach. If the attendee list isn’t available, set a goal to come away with 10 new business cards or shake hands with 25 people. Always, always, always bring plenty of business cards.
During the Event
Here are some ideas that work no matter how many people you know…
• At a networking event, don’t try to sell your product or service; you can book a follow-up meeting for that. Instead, try to connect with the person. What topics do you share an interest in? Kids, pets, hobbies, travel, etc. Don’t ask, “so what do you do?” That won’t build a relationship; it will only tell the person you aren’t interested in them. One of my favorite questions is, “where did you grow up?” Often this reveals that you have a connection (‘six degrees of separation’ theory).
• If you know the person, ask something specific about them. “How are your kids doing?” “Are you going south again for your vacation?” This reinforces that you are a good listener and value your relationship.
• It’s scary to attend an event, by yourself, where you don’t know anyone. How do you start a conversation? Use available tools. A food station or bar, for instance, is a gathering point. Strike up a conversation about the cheese or local wine. Once you’ve engaged someone, introduce yourself. Then play the ‘newbie card.’ Tell them this is your first event; ask, “have you been attending for a lot of years?” I often meet many other first-timers looking to make a connection by asking this question. If they are an ‘old-timer,’ ask if they can introduce you to a few people; you’ll be surprised how open most people are to this request.
• You can always lean on the event organizer. If meeting new people is not your strength, ask the organizer if he/she can introduce you to someone who can take you under their wing. After all, it’s in their best interest that you have a good experience and return.
After the Event
If you meet someone new and exchange business cards, drop them an e-mail the next day to say how nice it was to meet them. Depending on your conversation, you could request a connection on LinkedIn or another social-media site. If there was a follow-up item from your conversation, then make sure you deliver on your promise within 24 hours. You’ve obviously made a great first impression – follow through on it!