Conferences and events give you the opportunity to shape your own experience.
A long time ago I wrote that the answer to how is yes -- I still believe that to be true. Are you truly taking advantage of the opportunities that come your way? Or are you spending your time bemoaning what the experience could have been?
30 ideas on connecting
I got from attending the WOMMA Summit this week. Feel free to add your own in the comments.
1. write down at least three take aways for each session you attend -- there's a lot of experience hiding in the obvious
2. grab your seat early and engage with your seat neighbors -- more knowledge you can tap there
3. choose to provide constructive feedback to all -- your conference experience depends on your outlook
4. spend some time with the sponsors and learn about their products or services -- you really never know when that information will come in handy for your job, or to pass on to a connection
5. demo products, talk to brand reps about the services -- can you learn something about how to position a product better?
6. remember that thinking can be more powerful than doing -- you might discover you've been rushing to the wrong activities
7. ask specific questions of speakers, and keep the open ended ones for networking -- and for yourself, you're responsible of your own take aways, after all
8. use the information you researched ahead of time on attendees/topic -- as a foundation to build upon
9. be open to new ideas or new points of view -- it's actually more instructive and fun when people don't do or say what you expect them to
10. document what you learn to share with your team -- taking time away from the office is not easy these days, and often others with already brimming plates end up covering for you a little. This is a way to provide value in return
11. have a good attitude, it's contagious -- really, we just saw that in the opening keynote, be fascinating, and the world will smile upon you
12. tweet less if this means you listen more -- can you really absorb information and learn while you're tweeting?
13. share connections with other attendees -- this works especially well if you're an introvert. Meet new people by introducing people you know should meet each other, while you shift the focus away from you. A neat trick this introverted extrovert has found very valuable
14. pay attention to non verbals -- during breaks, as well as the sessions, you can learn a lot just by observing
15. observe what people gravitate towards and make a note of it for your business --where's the energy in the room? What's captivating?
16. take the time to provide overall feedback to conference organizers -- organizing events is like hooking up many friends for first dates. Will people have a nice time? How does the program need to flow?
17. participate to sessions actively -- body language is also participation, which is why taking yourself away from the session to be on screen frequently is hard on speakers and others in the room
18. be willing to challenge your own thinking -- this is hard, I know. The best advice I can give you is suspend your judgment, think possibility, or like Ben Zander, how fascinating
19. split sessions if you're going with a team, and regroup -- often several good sessions are concurrent, when you have the luxury of sharing notes, you should take advantage of it
20. meet the speakers during breaks -- I know how it is, so much to do, people to meet, so little time. I'll share a little secret with you: speakers are the least courted people at breaks, no idea why, even at events like SxSW
21. make note of any follow up activities and follow through -- follow through is key. Closing th gap between promises made and promises kept builds a solid reputation, and helps you make stuff happen, too
22. seek out the new and stimulating -- the ability to personalize reading experiences may keep knowledge about new topics stagnant, mix it up a little and you open new paths
23. bring your offline voice to conversations -- people may or may not read your blog, they may or may not follow you on Twitter, etc. why not just talk to them as they and you are and take it from there?
24. give yourself time with each new person you meet -- pacing yourself will actually allow you to get to know more people. These days, face time is actually more precious than contact details. Think about it, you can find those on Google easily anymore
25. volunteer to fill in for a speaker on a panel or session -- occasionally, a panelist misses a flight or has a last minute committment, it might be your lucky day if your expertise matches the topic and the organizers know about it
26. help out at the bookstore -- another opportunity to provide some relief to conference organizers and meet more people is the book stand or store, if there is one, and these days, with so many authors speaking, chances are it's probably there
27. partner with a speaker to greet people before the session and thank them after the session -- gaining permission by associating yourself with part of the event and being gracious is a good way to connect
28. laugh with people -- for a reason, of course, otherwise it looks creepy. They say laughter is the shortest distance between people
29. remember people's names with their faces -- I have an extremely good visual memory, so I generally ask for a business card to see the name written. Then I attended my first SxSW and came home with a stack of cards, all with names, none with faces on them. Who did I remember? Those who made eye contact (and those with pictures of themselves on the cards)
30. celebrate the success of others -- every conference I've ever attended, there is at least one (usually more) announcement. Those are perfect opportunities to recognize the work of others, which is supremely connective
While the seven shoulds of conference organization could go a long way to making the experience better for you, you're in control of what you get out of attending. This is what I found useful when attending an event.
What have you found a good use of your time when attending conferences?
[at Confab2011 with Ann Handley]
[adapted from the archives]