Business conferences have more in common with bars than with boardrooms. Everyone is trying to look pretty and no one wants to go home alone. Things kick off with some motivational speaker working the stage like a rock star and organizers revving up the crowd by telling us all how fabulous we are. An hour into the event, attendees are over-caffeinated, hyped up on buzzwords, and crazed with the fever to maximize their potential. It’s madness.
Question: Why would I put myself through such a thing? Answer: Because it is necessary.
You can have the greatest product/service on earth but you still have to push it. Even if you already have a solid client base and things are going well, it’s never a bad idea to venture out there and see what more you can do. And when you mix and mingle with other people, you learn about the things they are doing. For me, this is the most important reason to attend business events. Hearing about other people’s good ideas gives me good ideas!
I am writing this blog post from my room at the Radisson, in Austin, Texas. Just spent the week at a Women in Business conference and had a blast. Met a fascinating woman who runs a multi-million dollar company and we will be doing some work together soon. Met another woman whose company focuses on ergonomics. Super cool! Am looking forward to doing some work with her as well.
The first woman sat beside me on the plane. She was knitting a sweater… best knitter I have ever seen! The second woman shared a table with me in the foyer of the conference centre. We were both playing hooky instead of attending seminars. Loved her shoes!
Didn’t make a single connection at the business ‘expo’, although I did collect some really interesting bling to take home to the kids. Lip glosses and cowboy hats and slinkies, and a thousand tiny cubes of chocolate shrouded in corporate-customized wrappers. Is there really any benefit to such strange handouts? Hey honey. Let’s rent a car at Avis. Remember them. They are the company that gave us the pink lip gloss. Great idea! And we should switch our corporate accounting to that firm that gave us the slinkie.
The environment at an event like this is surreal and if you are not careful you can get wrapped up in the hype and lose your bearings. I have had people talk to me for ten, fifteen minutes, and when they walked away, I still couldn’t tell you what they actually do for a living. It’s not their fault. They just fell into a bucket of business-speak and wound up talking nonsense.
To really take advantage of all of the wonderful opportunities to meet potential clients and other business professionals, you need to stay calm. Be yourself. And DO NOT make these coming networking mistakes:
- Don’t begin by pushing your business card at someone… it’s like tossing your phone number at a stranger in a bar… very disconcerting.
- Don’t launch right into your ‘elevator pitch’… take a breath, smile, and say hello.
- Don’t ‘network’. It’s shallow…. stop working the room and allow yourself to have just one or two meaningful conversations. Focus on making friends instead of connections
- Don’t try too hard. People can smell desperate a mile away. If you hear your voice going up an octave or you start to laugh that strange laugh that sounds nothing like the way you normally guffaw, you are trying too hard… find an excuse to disengage (a trip to the bathroom is always a good out). Take a few deep breaths and settle down.
- Don’t try to ‘close’. Conferences and business gatherings are not the place to work out details… end a good chat by handing out that business card (the one you didn’t push at them when you first met) and by taking theirs. Set up a time to re-connect or agree to email later.
Also… try and enjoy the journey. For my part, I am skipping the last day of seminars and expo-ing. I am taking a boat ride and hanging out in a part of Austin that the front desk staff have labeled “the best”. I am planning to have fish tacos at a place recommended by a cab driver. And I want to visit the main Whole Foods store for all of the United States. Thinking of bringing a bag of yummies home and ending the week by binge watching Season 3 of Scandal. (I don’t get a lot of time to myself, so this is a luxurious indulgence in my world).
Who knows… I might run into a businesswoman who wanted to see the city instead of going to another seminar. We might share some tacos and ponder ways to do some business together…