Conferences are an excellent way to connect with a targeted group of people in a short amount of time. With a little bit of preparation, you can justify the cost of the registration, travel, hotel and time spent not "working." But many rely on serendipity when it comes to making connections at conferences -- and if you don't know what you are looking for, serendipity can become a missed opportunity.
Here are 7 questions to ask yourself before your next conference to help you get the most out of this momentary networking hub:
- How do I look? "You can't bring your A game in your B suit," said Melinda Emerson. Besides making an impression on the people you meet at your conferences, the way you dress impacts how you feel about yourself. Make the effort to look good so you can feel even better.
- Why am I going? A very simple question, but one that is often overlooked when it comes to choosing conferences. Are you going because everyone one else is going? Did someone else tell you it's the place to be? It's worth doing a little bit of research before you decide to flip the bill for the registration, plane, hotel and meals.
- What's the bigger picture? Before there was a conference, there was a goal (life or business) that you were/are trying to accomplish. Keep that in mind when you are choosing your next conference. Having clarity on your goals makes a huge difference in what conference you attend and who you look to connect with while at the conference.
- Who can help me? Once you are clear on your goals, look at who can be of assistance. You may be able to get names of attendees from the organizers or by looking at the RSVP list on Facebook or EventBrite, if available. Don't worry if you don't know the exact names; start by thinking about job titles. For example, if your goal is build your platform, you may be looking to connect with editors on the media scene.
- What do I need to learn? Einstein once said, "We can't solve a problem with the same mind that created it," meaning there is always something to learn before achieving a goal. Being clear on what you need to learn before you head to your next conference will help you choose the right breakout session and have a positive impact on your conversations. You can now stop talking about the weather and ask instead, "I'm curious, have you tried Facebook ads? I've heard mixed reviews and am always interested in hearing how others are using it."
- What do I have to offer? A mental sticking point, especially when connecting with A-listers. Here's the deal: everyone can use assistance from time to time, and we all have something to offer. The trick is to be clear on our offering inventory. An acronym that helps is W.H.E.N: Work, Hobbies, Education and Network. Creating a list using the W.H.E.N acronym will remind you of what you have to offer in any given situation. Combine that list with the questions,"What are you most excited about?" and "What's your biggest challenge?" and you'll get a clear sense of how you can be of service. You don't necessarily have to have an answer on the spot, just be willing to keep them in mind and follow up when you have something to share. Hint: Use Google Alerts to keep an eye out for new solutions to problems you want to help others solve.
- Who should I connect with? I suggest reaching out to three groups: organizers, speakers and participants. Most of them can be reached via social media and/or the conference website. Warning: do not connect with a speaker just because they are famous. Instead, focus on connecting with people who align with your goals.
Being clear on your goals, what you have to offer and which connections you'll make beforehand will help you to get the most out of your next conference.
Mike Ambassador Bruny is a conference networking speaker and creator of "The New Art of Conference Networking: Hashtags to Handshakes™." Mike helps people walk into conferences and get greeted like Norm from the TV show Cheers.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.