Becoming a Conference and Networking Influencer
By David Dalka
Do you spend weeks planning for conferences, securing airline tickets, booking hotel rooms and preparing presentations, just to walk away without making a memorable impact? Do you leave with a briefcase full of business cards and no basis for following up? Does it all feel like a waste of time and resources?
It doesn’t have to be that way. Jeffery Meshel, author of One Phone Call Away: Secrets of a Master Networker offers the following: “If you don’t want to be shy, you don’t have to be, and you can change the way you think. We are our own best friends or we our own worst enemy. Focus on the other person, listen attentively and then push yourself to share your opinions.”
Follow these steps to change the way you plan, approach and engage people and go from a wallflower to a conference influencer and networking dynamo.
Ask yourself: “What are my personal and professional goals for this conference or meeting and what is my proposed branding message?” Without personal focus and transparency, other people can’t help you. Be clear and specific. For example, “I’m interested in identifying and meeting thought leaders defining the future of mobile search.”
Gather intelligence about the people you want to interact with before you contact them. Research using blogs, search engines, business networks such as LinkedIn and common people you know. Learn about the interests of that person before you reach out. Try entering them as a key word alert in your RSS reader — you may learn things they don’t even know, making an even greater impact.
Conferences start before you arrive. Reach out to your target contacts via phone or email several days before the conference. If you can’t reach them, post information about the conference on your blog and link to those you wish to meet. Post on an appropriate message board and/or comment on their blog. If there isn’t an evening gathering planned before the conference, organize one yourself — people will appreciate the effort.
Volunteer. Always look to give more than you receive — in the end you will get far more back. Ask to be part of an organizing committee or seek other ways to help. You will gain access to conference organizers, speakers and other influencers and frequently find events not listed in the conference program.
When in doubt, interact with those who actively participate. Those that constantly participate are often innovators. As a bonus, these people are usually easier to connect with because of their engaging nature. Several times, I’ve learned about upstart companies simply by approaching someone who asked questions during a session.
Ask questions, both during and after sessions. You’ll be noticed by others and people who follow the previous step will seek you out.
Identify trend-setting leaders and share new information liberally. Ask them how they stay current. They will usually be flattered and will give you future insight into emerging technology and upcoming conferences.
Follow up. Don’t let that stack of business cards go stale — cultivate those positive relationships. Take note of important traits, hobbies and communication preferences and incorporate that into your follow up strategy.
Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight and a master networker offers some additional advice. “The best conferences use systems like IntroNetworks to facilitate connections beforehand, but it’s not a problem if yours doesn’t. Just use tools like LinkedIn, Ryze or even Google to find out how to reach your target contact and if there’s a mutual friend who can introduce you. Then, next year volunteer to help implement a pre-conference connection tool and you’ll get greater access to all the attendees.”
If you find it difficult to get to the various industry conferences, eComXpo is a great alternative that is currently held twice per year. This virtual conference is online — enabling participation without regard to time, travel or budget limitations. John Grosshandler is Founder and Event Director of eComXpo. “One of the reasons we created eComXpo was to enable people, even if they are shy, to derive the networking benefits of a traditional show,” said Grosshandler.
After a recent eComXpo, Barry Byrant, CEO of Harvest One Media said, "Virtual attendance provided more opportunity for our company to attend sessions and engage in networking than would not have been possible otherwise."
Whether you plan on attending the many on-site industry conferences, online conferences or just networking through blogs and online forums, follow these simple tips to take full advantage of your opportunities. Don’t get caught on the outside — make your presence known. You’ll find a number of ways to move your business forward. ■
About the Author: David Dalka is a search marketing and customer evangelist consultant. Visit daviddalka.com/createvalue for his blog and contact information.