You aren’t at the convention for the accommodations — your bed at home is more comfortable. You aren’t there for the food — you’ve got more flavor and selection in your own refrigerator. You aren’t even there for the content — you can find the same information on the Web for little or no cost (it might even be by the same author).
It’s about the people.
The last time we met, we talked about the five different types of people you might meet at a convention (and why you might want to meet with them). Today you’ll learn about some of the tactics you can use to make those meetings more successful.
Let’s take a look at our original categories of attendees, each in turn.
- New People. These are the folks you’ve never met before and you might think you know nothing about. The cool thing is, though, unlike most new encounters at networking events, you already know this other person has enough interest in the topic of the convention to have come in the first place — just like you! This makes the initial breaking into conversation a lot easier. After initial introductions, a simple “So what brings you to the convention?” should get the conversation off and rocking. Then it’s just a matter of using good follow-up questions to find out more about your potential new friend.You can meet new people when you are waiting in line for food, when you are seated near them at the restaurant (or waiting in the lobby). The cocktail reception is all about these opportunities. Oh, and don’t forget about the breakout sessions. If you are both there early, you might have five or ten minutes to get to know them before the presentation starts.
- Your Convention Connections. These are the folks you’ve met in previous years. You may or may not have kept in close contact, but either way, you would like to reconnect and strengthen that relationship while you have a chance to meet face-to-face.The dangerous phrase here would be “Maybe we’ll run into each other.”Professionals plan for success. Random serendipitous meetings work when you are meeting new people. If you want to meet with someone you already know, however, get in contact with them beforehand and set up a time/place for the two of you to meet. Don’t leave it to chance. This might mean that you need to take a look at the convention schedule ahead of time to see when there are openings in the agenda. Unless there is a scheduled speaker, mealtimes can be excellent opportunities. You can also look for unscheduled evenings or sometimes even scheduled events to local tourist areas. It might be even more fun as a shared experience.
- Speakers and Organizers. The information you receive at a main floor or breakout session can be valuable. Can you imagine how much more valuable it would be to meet and get to know the people who came up with these ideas?Meeting and striking up a conversation with a presenter is actually far easier than most people think. Here’s the trick: Tell them they did a good job. The same holds for the people putting on the convention. Speakers especially may appear to be confident while they are standing in front of you. As a speaker, though, I can tell you that a good portion of us are just filled with insecurity. If you come up and tell us that some point we’ve made will change your life, we will pretty much love you forever.Of course, this means you actually have to listen to our presentation and pay attention while you are there. I’ll tell you right now, I can tell if someone is checking their email while I’m talking. Don’t do that.
- Colleagues. I know I’ve repeatedly said that you shouldn’t be sitting with your co-workers when you are networking. “If you are sitting with your company, your sitting with the wrong company” and all that. This is one situation where you can break that rule.In reality, you probably don’t know the people you work with all that well — certainly not as well as you think you do. So, once again, agree to meet for cocktails or breakfast or lunch. The trick is to have a plan. Heck, you might even decide to be networking partners and each look out for the others interests. You might even like to have an accountability partner. You commit to them what your networking goals are for the day or the event and periodically check in with them about how you each are doing.
- Success Connectors. This group actually overlaps the others. They are the ones who discover that they know someone whom you should meet — someone who might make your day or week or year.In order to discover if the person in front of you is a member of this group, you have to know two things. First, you have to know what you want. Second, you have to know what they want and if you don’t you must ask.The second part is necessary because by being curious about and willing to take action on behalf of someone else’s interests is what will lead them to want to help you with yours. The first part is necessary since you need to be ready to tell them what you want when they ask.
OK, now you are ready to meet with these different groups. When it happens, just be ready to open up and treat them like another human being. Be interested in them and their dreams. Wherever possible help them along the path. The success you have at meeting people now can turn into a greater success for you when you get back home.
Next time, we’ll talk a bit about structuring your time at the convention and how convention networking is a little different from a local event you might attend.
Photo by Greg Peters