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.
I like what you've said. I'd add that good practice strikes me as a matter of appropriate use given the context.
For instance, you propose decent general rules that I might phrase like "Do private stuff in private space and also respect the unique value and public nature of public space." This guideline encompasses stuff like your good suggestion not excessively to check email, texts, etc. within the public areas of a conference or event. Definitely.
To further your point, while it's easy and advisable to duck away as needed for a quick check in, one should maximize the value of in-person contact available at events. Email is email and always will be.
You might also highlight the difference between connecting to non-event stuff (e.g. regular email) while at an event versus using an iPhone at an event to support the event itself.
As one example, I get tremendous value emailing myself photos of business cards collected from people I meet. I can add all kinds of notes, and I have basically backed up the card and this info in the Gmail cloud. I have no fear of these materials getting lost.
I also find the iPad indispensable. I can't imagine going to a conference again without it. Duck down a hallway or find a private chair and Google stuff, hit Wikipedia, Twitter, etc. You can learn a ton in a flash that makes additional in-person conversation more meaningful.
I also have it loaded with all kinds of info, screen caps, etc. so that it can supplement on the fly any conversations I might have. No connection required. I've got the ideal visuals right there always on with basically no battery-life constraints all day. I've even recorded little videos to display various stuff. It's amazing what an impact this can have.
These sorts of ideas involve using an iPad and iPhone either to hang ONTO great event stuff or to bring great stuff INTO an event -- never distracting my attention AWAY from an event. Again, it's about use and context within a reasonable set of guidelines.
Thanks for posting. Good food for thought as always.
Walking around the MAGIC apparel show in Vegas, I realized I neglected to share a good trick. At a conference, I minimize the brightness on my iPhone. This discourages me from checking it too often. After a while of walking around or listening to a talk, if I reflexively reach for the phone, the dim screen reminds me to do other stuff. And, of course, if I need to dial the brightness back up, it just takes a second.
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