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 6)
"Do Not Hang Out With Your Co-Workers"
by Thom Singer
People want to make connections when they attend an industry conference. They secretly hope to make meet one or more people who will lead them to future opportunities. Yet, once they arrive at the convention they spend too much time glued to their co-workers and other old friends.
They sit with the same people at every breakout session. They eat with old friends at meal-time. They hang with their boss at happy hour. This can sabotage the success of attending the conference, as when you are attached at the hip to another person (or persons) you may not seem approachable.
Later when people review the benefits of the meeting and their return on investment for being there they come up short on the realization of the "networking opportunities" they desired.
Excuses can be made for why someone can be at an industry event filled with the top people in their business, and yet they made no connections that lead to future opportunities. But the reality is often that people retreated to the comfort zone of the people they already knew and failed to speak with those who could become clients, vendors, partners, referral sources, advisers, advocates, friends, etc... If you want to make new contacts you must take the necessary actions.
If you are attending a conference with a group of people with whom you have a strong association you need to set the ground rules in advance. Make sure that everyone is clear on the purpose of going to the meeting. You can hang out with your co-workers at the office and save your company thousands of dollars. But if the business is investing in your registration and travel to an event, take advantage of the plethora of new people with whom you might be able to establish relationships. Make meeting others the priority over hanging with co-workers and other friends.
Several years ago my co-author for "Some Assembly Required: A Networking Guide for Women" (Marny Lifshen) and I attended a conference for writers and speakers. We both teach the importance of networking, and share a similar philosophy on the power of making connections at industry events. But even with our shared perspective, we still held a pre-meeting to discuss a plan for how to maximize the conference. We agreed not to sit together at during the sessions and meals, but set times to re-group throughout the conference to share notes, ideas and make useful introductions to other people whom we met separately.
The advantage to splitting up from co-workers is that you will cover more ground. You can attend different breakout sessions and gain twice as much information for your company than if you were all in the same presentations. Plus when you sitting alone you are more likely to talk to the people around you before the sessions begin. This way will individually meet twice as many people. When one person meets a key industry contact they can then make the introductions to others co-workers.
A savvy manager will never allow his employees to attend a conference without a pre-event strategy meeting. If your company is not regularly doing this, suggest the idea. Your supervisor will be thrilled that you are looking for ways to maximize the ROI for the investment in the conference.
I am not suggesting that you ignore or snub your co-workers and other friends. There will be lots of time at the multi-day conference for you to interact and have fun together. But if you are not conscious of how much time you spending with those you already know, you will inadvertently spend all your time in their company. Having a plan to find the right mix is paramount to successful networking opportunities at a conference.
Have A Great Day.