Guess what? Multi-day conferences are overwhelming. It’s only now as I sit on the plane that I can fully digest the 2012 Americans for the Arts Conference. While in San Antonio, I learned a lot through the newcomer orientations and Emerging Leader sessions. Some of these I wish had come sooner. As an introvert I find the task of networking to be particularly daunting. Here are my tips for making any conference, or networking opportunity, a successful one.
One subject that repeatedly arose was creative fundraising in a tough economy. How does this relate to networking? Simply put, people give to other people – not causes. People give to other people they know. The key to successful networking is being memorable (in the best way possible). You are more than your business card, show it.
Many of the people I met were from across the country. I have no idea when I will see them again. Take notes when you meet someone, put key words on the back of their business card. You brought a pen use it.
It Doesn’t Have to be About Work
The things I remember most had little to do with their current job. Maybe it is how they learned Lebanese, they love shoes, write a food blog, or love to bike. It is an easy association that can be very indicative of the type of person they are. It lets you know how they can fit into your life and how you fit into theirs, if at all. Remember to try to keep this in line with your personal brand. Don’t know what your personal brand is yet? Time to figure it out.
But first read the participant list. Chances are that someone you would love to meet will be at the conference. Check the participant list, see who will be there, and read their bios. Do not be afraid to reach out to someone “out of your league”. Do your best to set up an informational interview. Email addresses are typically included on the list. Send out an email that clearly states who you are as well as your intentions. Also include specific questions you have for the individual. Plan on having 30 minutes to accomplish your goal.
Let’s be honest, we all have agendas. When we want to network with a specific individual, there is always a reason why. Why did their name peak your interest in the first place? Well, forgetaboutit! Yes have a specific idea of why you want to start a conversation with someone, but do not be surprised when the conversation does not go as planed. Let go of the scripted idea you had in your head. Your real goal should be developing rapport, not getting something out of someone else.
You Don’t Have to Say Much
You wanted to hear from them right? Listen to what they have to say. Ask a few insightful questions, but primarily listen and take notes.
If you had an Informational Interview, write a handwritten thank you note. An email will suffice, but handwritten is best. Keep in touch with them. Do not let them forget you. Forward interesting articles, however don’t flood their inbox. This lets them know you are interested in the field and are keeping up to date.
Don’t Be Discouraged
Didn’t meet with everyone you wanted? Didn’t get to ask all the questions you wanted? It’s okay. Most people are very busy at these conferences. You were weren’t you? Imagine how busy the big fish are. If someone you wanted meet lives in your area, try to meet in person. Otherwise email or use social media. Just use discretion if you don’t want your boss to know.
Overall, make the most of the experience. There will be more people than you can talk to and more sessions and mixers than you can attend. Set your priorities before you leave, and remain focused on those. Take time for yourself. No one will hold it against you if you session hop or call it an early evening. The best moments will happen when you least expect it. It may happen in the airport shuttle or at a mixer. Be open. Be flexible. Stay in your toes. Be yourself.