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How to Work a Conference

home to work a conferenceBy, Sharon Bartlett

Over the years, I have attended hundreds of business conferences and have spoken at dozens of them. Many people complain that they do not attend conferences because they are too expensive and they do not have an opportunity to meet the people they want to meet. As with most things in life, you get out what you put in. Sure, attending a conference can be expensive. But consider it an investment in yourself. After all, who better to invest your money in?

By attending business conferences, I learn and connect with the right people. In fact, I can directly attribute, in part, many of the business relationships I have developed over the years to attending conferences. Based on my experience, I have put together some tips to help you “work a conference.”

Before You Go:
Plan how best to spend your time at the event. Divide your time between attending sessions, meeting with clients and prospective clients, visiting the exhibits/booths and networking with other attendees.

Become familiar with sessions offered during the event and be sure to register in advance for sessions that require an RSVP. Research speakers and prepare questions to ask should the opportunity arise.

Schedule meetings well in advance of the conference, which will give you the best opportunity to meet with clients and prospective clients. This is not one of those instances where you want to wait until you are at the event.

Dress to Impress:
Dressing appropriately for the occasion is a good way to make yourself feel comfortable at the event. On the other hand, dressing inappropriately may get you some attention, but it is not the kind of attention you want to attract. Typically, cocktail attire is intended for events after 5:00 PM. Being overdressed is not always the best option.

While many businesses have gone to a business casual attire in the office, that is not the case with all business conferences. Be sure that you understand the conference dress code and pack accordingly. If you have not previously attended the event, ask someone that has or the event coordinator for suggested attire. When in doubt opt for business attire at a business event.

You only get to make a first impression once! How you dress makes a statement before you say anything.

Learn, Engage and Share:
Arrive early to each session and grab that dreaded seat on the first row! You will thank me later because you will have no trouble making a connection with everyone on the stage. The speakers will be thankful because no one wants to talk to empty seats.

Be present and engaged. Put the phone down and listen with the intent of learning something new. Take notes and share them with your peers and network that were not able to attend the event. Many exhibitors are manning their booths and are unable to attend the sessions. Offer to share your notes, this is a great way to make a further connection with them.

Asking questions of the speaker is another great way to engage. Introduce yourself before asking your question. Questions should be brief, concise and relevant to the topic. This is not the time to ask a multi-part question! Use caution when asking a controversial question, or one that puts the speaker on the spot.

The purpose here is to build rapport. Introduce or reintroduce yourself, as appropriate, and give them a way to remember you in a positive manner. The introduction should take less than 10 seconds and should include your first and last name, the name of your company and a brief description of what you do. If you are unsure whether you have met previously, a “Nice to see you” is more appropriate than “It’s good to meet you” which could prove to be quite embarrassing if they remember meeting you.

A firm clasp makes a perfect handshake. Avoid giving wimpy, knuckle breaking and fingers only handshakes. Many men are taught to wait for the woman to initiate a handshake. So ladies, extend your hand during an introduction.
It is important to engage; smile, make eye contact, speak clearly and be energetic. Put your personality into it. In the end, people will remember how your introduction made them feel more than what you said.

Business Cards:
Your business card should be attractive and professional, but keep it simple. At a minimum, include your name, title, company name, email address and phone number(s). If you do not include your address and specialize in a particular market area, be sure to include it. Business cards should be readable…without a magnifying glass.

To keep your cards crisp and clean, keep them in a business card holder. A wrinkled and dirty business card does not leave a professional impression. This will also help to keep your business cards separate from the cards you have received.

Bring more business cards than you think you will need. There is (almost) nothing worse than running out of business cards. It reflects poor planning, which is not how you want someone to remember you.

It is polite to wait until someone asks you for your business card. If they haven’t asked and you want to give them your card, try asking “May I have your card?” Once you receive their card, you can then ask “May I offer you my card?” When someone presents you with their business card, be sure to take a moment to look at the card and say thank you.

Two reasons to leave the brochures at the office: They are expensive to produce and no one wants to carry around a bulky brochure while at an event. Instead, use them to follow up after the event.

Conversation Starters:
Read newspapers, trade magazines and newsletters to build your knowledge of current issues and events. These provide great conversation topics. Steer clear of discussions about politics and religion. They are not the best option in a business setting.

Prepare for the conversation in advance. Have a short list of topics that are appropriate to the event. If you need help getting started, visit http://conversationstartersworld.com for a list of over 250 questions for starting a conversation.

Remember that conversation is a two-way street. Do not monopolize the conversation. Listen twice as much as you speak (two ears, one mouth). Be mindful of offering unsolicited feedback. That is a BIG no-no. Avoid complaining, bragging and competing. None of which are professional behaviors.

Luckily, you already have something in common with the person you are meeting at an event. They are at the same event so it is likely you have more in common to talk about than you think.

About the author: Sharon Bartlett is the principal consultant and owner of Sharon Bartlett Consulting. Sharon is an expert in default services management and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences. She can be reached by email at [email protected]

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