by Steve Facini
When I attend business conferences, the thing I am most careful to prepare isn’t my business cards or my elevator pitches—it’s my etiquette. Being respectful, acting with integrity, and being thoughtful with others’ time is the key to squeezing the most value out of every handshake and every minute spent away from your desk. I utilize conferences to learn new skills, stay on top of emerging developments in my industry, and refresh my passion for business and marketing so that I can walk away excited to hit my desk again on Monday. Even more importantly, however, I forge the connections that will matter all year long and determine my bottom line by following a few simple rules.
I jealously guard my own time when I’m working, minimizing distractions and doing away with busy work that doesn’t ultimately serve my business. When I’m interacting with others at a conference, I guard their time just as jealously. Some folks treat networking events like speed dating—they’re out to shake as many hands and collect as many cards as possible in the hopes that one of them will be the “right” hand that will close a huge deal or open a big door. I prefer to spend more time with the people I meet and make a more meaningful connection so that I’m not staring at a pile of names I don’t recognize and faces I don’t remember in my LinkedIn feed the next day. I’m always careful, however, not to waste any time for the person I’m speaking with. Sometimes that means giving them an easy out to the conversation if they’re clearly itching to work the room. I also never launch into a sales pitch with anyone who hasn’t expressed a genuine interest in my business or a need for my talents. In fact….
I pitch as little as I can when I’m at a conference. For one thing, most conferences will put you in the same room as hundreds of other people who do what you do, not hundreds of leads. If you go in to a conference just hoping to close deals, you’re going to be missing out on other opportunities (and likely end up disappointed.) Of course, big deals can happen—but walking around sounding like an infomercial is a good way to make it a rare occurrence. Conferences are about forging connections. People buy with their hearts as much as with their heads, and being likeable has almost as much to do with sales as having a solid value proposition. It’s much more useful, in my opinion, to have three ten-minute conversations than ten one minute-chats. I’ve gotten much more business through referrals and introductions that I gained through conferences than direct sales, anyway.
Everyone is quick to follow the keynote speaker on Twitter and listen with polite attention, but are you being sure to give the same treatment to the workshop leaders and panel moderators? I always carry a notebook and pen into workshops with me to jot down ideas, web addresses and names. I rarely read the pages I filled again, but the simple act of writing something down aids tremendously with recall. It also shows that you are paying attention, and spares you the temptation of flipping through your phone or tapping on your laptop during a workshop. Don’t be the person who spends the whole presentation on their phone and then asks the moderator if the slides will be made available online later. It wasn’t cute during college and it certainly won’t win you any friends now. You’re not there to glean every bit of knowledge that you deem potentially useful, and you certainly shouldn’t be jumping between workshops to find the one that’s most valuable. I’ve seen people do all of these things, but at the end of the day they’re only denying themselves some very important opportunities. You’re there to forge connections that matter. Being polite and respectful is always the single best way to do that.
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