Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Networking Catalyst". He regularly speaks at industry conventions and trade shows where he inspires the audience (and vendors) to maximize their participation at the event. One of the top reasons people attend business conferences is for the "Networking Opportunities", and yet once there they fail to create connections that will have any meaningful impact on their career. Thom sets the tone for the culture of the conference which becomes the foundation for a more meaningful set of interactions.
Maximize Your Conference (Part 4)
Your Blackberry or iPhone Is Not Your Friend
by Thom Singer
A big mistake that many people make when they attend a multi-day industry conference is spending too much time tethered to their office via mobile technology.
Little more than a decade ago if you were at a conference you were at the conference. The demands of your office, email, conference calls, texts, etc... did not follow you to the event. Thus people were able to engage with others attendees and take advantage of the networking opportunities. Industry conferences were a place to make important connections, and the office was left behind.
Today we are accustomed to having our mobile devices with us at all times, and we live under the assumption that this makes us more productive. In reality, your constant addiction to being on your smart phone can be a dumb choice, especially while you are at a conference.
It is very common to see conference attendees huddled in corners replying texts, talking loudly, typing emails or walking through the hallways in a iPhone induced trance while they read the latest blog post by Chris Brogan.
The problem is that, whether you like it or not, other people are always watching you and making snap judgments. First impressions matter. If you spend your time during the networking breaks with your nose buried in your phone other attendees will determine that you are either too busy or just not approachable. If you are chatting away with your assistant, boss or a client it is clear that the people around you are not the priority.
Hours later nobody will not come and talk to you because who you are and what matters to you will already be established in their minds. They might not even be conscious of this preconceived notion, but your attention to your electronics has sent a message that the human beings around you do not matter.
To stand in a crowd at a convention and pay attention only to your phone is rude. People may not say anything, but nobody considers this behavior polite. Even those who are the worst offenders do not like it when others ignore them and make love to their touch screens.
My advice is that during breaks, meals and happy hours you commit yourself to participating with other people. If you do need to tend to business, do not do it in the common areas. Instead excuse yourself and go far away from the convention area. If you are outside and far from the official conference nobody will be watching you. If they do see you they will know that you have important business. They will respect you more for taking it down the hall.
The same thing is true in when you are in the educational sessions. If you are sitting in the back of a large conference hall you can get away with multi-tasking while listening to the speaker. However, if you are up front or in a small breakout session you must be cautious not to be focused on your phone.
I often see professionals doing "The Blackberry Prayer" (look at someone in a meeting typing away like crazy, they look like a nun praying The Rosary) in meetings and they are never as inconspicuous as they think. If this is you, be aware that others will decide that your priorities are outside of the conference. You can rationalize all day how busy you are , but it will not add to maximizing your conference participation. If you appear unapproachable you lose.
I have a friend who swears that it is socially acceptable to multi-task in meetings, but people find her behavior rude and aloof. She wont just do this at large conventions, but also in intimate business and board meetings. Her associates and friends negatively talk of her "Crackberry" habit and feel she is self-absorbed. She says she does not care what people say, and believes they should respect how busy she is and be grateful she is present in the first place. But this is backwards to the most effective ways to build relationships and earn respect. My guess is she never makes any meaningful new contacts when she attends conferences.
I am not saying that you should not stay connected with your office while you are at a conference. My suggestion is that you schedule times to check in, and do it in private. When you are surrounded by people take advantage of the opportunity to connect. Have conversations and explore ways to create longer-term and mutually-beneficial relationships. Later you can make time away from the festivities to get your business done.
Your Blackberry or iPhone is not your friend. One conference attendee recently challenged me and said I was wrong, as his iPhone was the last thing he touched at night, and the first thing he touched in the morning. Yes, he is single. Nothing more needs to be said :)
Have A Great Day.