**I meant to post this while at the NSCA conference, but when I saw the $30 charge for internet I reconsidered. Sorry, it was either $30 internet or $15 gym/spa. Not a hard choice at all. I hope you enjoy!
Talking to Strangers
The scene is set and the people came out in droves. You find yourself in the midst of years of experience, loads of passion, and maybe best of all like-minded peers and mentors. If you’re as lucky as me, then I am describing the environment at your yearly professional conference. As a strength coach, I think we stand out in the fact that our mentors in the field are so willing to teach the “secrets” to any coach, young or old, that shows a real interest. If you make a true effort to learn and most of all connect, you would be impressed with the outcomes and relationships that can develop as a result.
So, another year, another conference. You know that this is a great opportunity to meet people and make professional connections in your field, but you leave every year with regrets and some IwishIwoulda’s.
So what happened?
You failed to plan. Just like anything else, in order to get the most out of your conference experience you must do some prep work first. First and foremost, let me tell you that I am not preaching from a pedestal here. That aforementioned scenario of regret was all my experience. Admittedly, I was horrible at this whole conference thing and to be even more honest, I still am not great at it. In the past, I was shy and didn’t make any connections, I wandered aimlessly from lecture to lecture with no real plan, and I wouldn’t dare ask a question. I have improved in these areas, but I can surely do better. This year I will.
Recently, I read a retweet from a “online mentor” of mine Coach Joe Kenn aka @BigHousePower (An “online mentor” is someone who I don’t necessarily know personally, but I use them as a resource, often unbeknownst to them). The retweet was about networking and was titled “The 5 Secrets to Networking” by Angel Ramos http://www.slideshare.net/ucfaramos/the5-secretsofnetworking
It was very thorough and full of great concepts and ideas on the topic. After viewing the presentation, I was inspired to plan for my upcoming conference in a different, more informed way. What I would like to do is reiterate the four points, which I felt were most useful:
- “Know Before You Go”
If you are registered for your conference, you are often given access to a detailed schedule, with names of the presenters. This year I reviewed the list and based on the topic and my particular needs/interests, I began to outline my day. This way I am not wandering around making last minute choices about what I want to learn the most. After I created my schedule, I began to do some cursory research on the presenters. In some cases, you may already know some presenters or at least know of them. In that case it would be a good idea to hop over to their website or social media page and see what they are up to most recently. This way you will have something current to speak to them about should you run into them, say in the elevator… you never know.
2. “Make a Goal”
Decide that you will make at least 2-3 connections per day before you leave the convention hall. It is so easy to go back to your comfy room or occupy your time in a new city, but remember why you are there. Don’t shortchange your experience.
People are generally there for the same exact reasons as you, so consider that to be a very friendly environment for random conversations with strangers. Once you realize this, it becomes much easier to begin a conversation with another attendee.
Remember to introduce yourself with a firm shake, say your name clearly, and repeat theirs. Ask them basic questions at first:
- What do you do in the field?
- What are you interested in getting out of this experience most?
Be sure to be genuine and actually listen to and care about what they have to say. When you don’t, people can tell. It’s obvious! The 80/20 rule works well here. Listen 80% of the time and speak 20% of the time. While engaging in the conversation, listen for opportunities for you to be able to help out in any way. Perhaps you or someone you may know could help this new contact in some way. If you can provide value, you immediately become a solid connections for others.
There is some room for interpretation for this in my profession. We are dealing with sports performance, exercise, movement, etc. I don’t think it is necessary to show up in a suit and tie unless you’re the keynote speaker, but if your reading this your probably not. I would suggest that you represent your business or university by wearing athletic gear or a nice polo. Like I said, there is room to play with here because of the nature of the profession. With that said, there are limits. What you should not wear are tank tops, flip flops, shirts with foul language, etc. Remember your not showing up to some college course in your sweats, socks and sandals like back in the day. You may meet your next employer at this presentation or the person who will introduce you to your next employer. If you are a professional in my field I and many others would prefer that you looked like one. To the general public you represent not just yourself, but you also represent our profession. You have a responsibility, so don’t blow it by poor representation.
4. Build and Maintain Relationships
Once you meet new people it is a good idea to keep track of where you met, what you talked about, their contact info, where they work, etc. That way you can stay connected in a more informed and effective way. Stay in contact. Please remember:
“Networking isn’t about giving to get. It is about paying it forward, and building relationships.”