How to Make an Impact at a Conference or Event
It’s that time of year! Conference season is upon us. If you work in senior living you have your choice of LeadingAge, CALA, VALA, MALA, NCALA, SCALA and more industry conferences coming up in the next few weeks. If you are planning to attend any of these events, how do you make sure to make a memorable impression on your colleagues and industry leaders?
Set a Goal: Instead of approaching a conference with the intent of hanging around your work colleagues, set a networking goal. Sure, Ray at the corporate office is a hoot, but you’ll have access to him after the event. Focus on meeting a few (or several) people that you wouldn’t normally rub elbows with.
Research: Look at the speakers and attendee list ahead of time if you can. Look up the bio’s or LinkedIn profiles of those that you are interested in. Think about any common ground you have with them. Same college? Mutual acquaintances? Worked with this person earlier in your careers? These are great conversation starters and ways to stand out from the crowd. Be selective and choose a few people rather than memorizing the attendee list.
Reach Out and Touch Someone: Contact people ahead of time via LinkedIn, Twitter or email and ask them if you could meet for coffee or a drink on a specific day/time. If you don’t know the person, make sure to ask for 10-15 minutes of their time and be sure to have a compelling message. Know what you would like to speak with them about and stay on track. If you’re selling something, know your value proposition and how it could help them. Save the hard sell approach for another time. If you just want to network with someone or are interested in their speaking topic, mention that when you ask for their time.
No Speed Dating! Try to focus on creating quality connections. Instead of rushing through and making brief intro’s to collect business cards, focus on really listening to what the other person is saying, give good eye contact and ask a great follow up question. “How did you get into senior living?” “What do you like most about what you do?” If you are looking for a business referral, ask them after you’ve learned about them. Make a note on the back of their business card of what you discussed so you remember who they are if/when you follow up. Conferences are full of small talk but if you can create a few really solid connections, these are more effective than several superficial introductions.
Pay It Forward: If you take nothing else away from this post, this tip is the most important way to differentiate yourself from all the rest: Find out what other people need to be successful and try to help them with that. Ask them specifically what you can do to help them out. If you are networking with an industry leader, they are probably there for a few sessions, business meetings and to go out to dinner with their team. Think about whom they might like to meet and help to facilitate that introduction. Introduce the Sales Director from the training company to your boss or to your company’s HR person. I was once in conversation with the owner of a small assisted living company and he asked if I would introduce him to another owner who had waved at me as she walked by. I got a thank you email the following week and have been working with him since.
Who Me? Be you, and definitely be genuine. Share some of the magic that makes you… well, you. Laugh with the people you run into. Spend time catching up with old friends. If a long conference of non-stop networking is daunting to you, make plans to meet up with a former colleague for breakfast or dinner. Give yourself some down time so you are not exhausted. Step out of a session and catch up on a few emails over a cup of coffee. Go out to dinner with your team. Then get up the next morning, recharged and ready to impress.