Many of my friends will be in St. Louis next week for the MPI World Education Conference 2012 (WEC). This is a major event in the meetings industry that will be attended by organizers, vendors, speakers, hoteliers, and others who make meetings happen.
While I will not at this conference (I will be speaking at the MPI Chapter Business Summit in September) I am excited about the theme of the WEC. "Creating the New Connectivity" is a powerful theme in our hyper-connected world. Meetings are not just about a ballroom with some interesting keynotes and breakouts. There is so much more that happens anytime humans gather. Since the beginning of time people have come together in community to share, learn, contemplate and connect.
If you are going to be at the WEC, here are my top 5 tips for maximizing your networking experience at the event:
1. Say good-bye to your co-worker once you arrive. A major mistake made at large conferences is that people cling to those they already know. They sit with their friends at every meal, and attend all the sessions together. Better to split up and then come together on occasion to share details of individual experiences.
This does not mean no contact with your buddies... but do not fall into the trap of being together all the time or you will miss the opportunity to meet new people.
2. Put your SmartPhone and tablets away during meal, breaks and happy hours. Most large conferences these days are overrun by the "Phone Zombies". People spend every break trying to connect outside the event, that they fail to have any meaningful conversations with those present. If you must check in with your office, walk outside. To take your phone out in the networking areas sends a message to those close by that you find your electronics more fascinating than they are (and that is rude).
This does not mean you cannot have your phone out during the speakers presentations. Take out your phone and tweet or post to Facebook any information you find interesting. Those of us not at the conference will enjoy sharing in your learning experience.
ALSO... if the speaker is boring... go ahead and check email or surf the internet. If the speaker is not engaging enough to keep your attention, they do not deserve your attention!
3. Be the person to initiate conversations. People attend these events to meet others, but most are waiting for someone to talk to them. Many are a bit shy at big events (both introverts and extroverts can clam up in big crowds), and when you say "hello" you can melt their shyness away and kick-start their whole meeting experience. Once you have a short conversation with someone you will be surprised how often you will cross paths with them again and again at the event.
4. Bring lots of business cards. Do not assume anyone will remember your name. While there are lots of people who want to push us all to use technology in place of a business card, it is often the easiest for everyone to trade the traditional paper cards. It does not require anyone to have the same apps, and since most people are visual, your will card has a unique look were the new links all look the same.
5. Have fun. When you are having fun people will be drawn to be around you. This event will have a great mix of learning and social activities... so do not miss out on the festive side of WEC. Too often people can get so caught up in the business and education that they forget to make the most from talking with other people. Some of the best learning comes from the impromptu "hallway conversations" you have with other attendees and vendors... and sharing with people is always fun!!!
While there is a lot of "new" ways to connect.... the good old-fashioned face-to-face conversations that take place at meetings is still paramount to business success. So get out there and talk to each other while in St. Louis.
Have A Great Day.
Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections. http://www.conferencecatalyst.com