Photo Credit: “Conference Center”, © 2015 Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine, Flickr | PD-CC0 | via Wylio
It’s coming! It’s coming! It’s coming!
As I’m looking ahead on my calendar, I see a big date approaching in September. I’m attending the Content World Conference and Expo in Cleveland, Ohio. It’ll be a first for me. If you’re into marketing, the annual event is considered the place “where you can learn and network with the best and the brightest in the content marketing industry.”
I’m a little excited.
Okay, I fibbed. I’m a lot excited.
Why? Because there will be plenty of good information shared, people to meet, knowledge to learn, potential clients to get to know, skills to develop … and I won’t be responsible for making dinner for a week. 🙂
Hey, this is a big deal. It’s the first professional multi-day convention I’ve attended in 13 years. What a tremendous opportunity!
“You’re going to sleep away conference-camp,” my youngest daughter said. (She experienced her first “sleep away” camp this summer.) It’s not exactly camp. I won’t be roughing it in a cabin, devoid of air-conditioning and electronics for a week. 🙂
But wait a minute. The events are similar.
I will be away from home. I’ll be outside of my comfort zone. Instead of nature, I will be immersed in marketing, writing and people – all topics I love. And with the money invested, I want to get the most out of it.
So I’ve taken logical steps: registered, arranged for hotel reservations and transportation, and signed up for the workshops. I’ve decided what to pack — I’m the queen of lists — and I started home preparations so my family survives 🙂 just fine while I’m gone.
Maybe you’re not as enthused about attending a conference as I am. But meetings and events are ubiquitous, aren’t they? Eventually, we are all bound to attend one.
Here are three ways to boost your confidence before you leave for your next conference:
1. Commit to Reachable Goals
Going to a conference is like getting ready for a vacation, minus the perks of relaxation and leisure. You need to wrap projects up, notify clients, and work through your inbox. Finish your work before you head out of town. With all the stress, who has time to prepare? And where does one start?
You can begin by writing down what results you want from attending the conference, according to Selena Soo, a business and publicity strategist.
She keeps this simple. Just ask yourself three questions. I’ve recorded my answers to the questions below as an example.
- Why do I want to attend the event? I want to attend the event to grow my copywriting business.
- What are my goals? One of my goals is to meet other established writers. It gets a little lonely in my home office. I’d love to have the camaraderie, albeit a virtual one, with other copywriters who are digging up clever facts for usefulness or lost in thought over the right word choice. I’m interested in relationships with regular people who are living the daily reality of typing away at their keyboards, under deadline.
- Who are the key people I’d like to connect with?
- The key people I’d like to connect with are:
- Marketing managers
- who hire freelance copywriters
- work at medium to large-sized organizations
- work in healthcare and business industries
- People in marketing in healthcare and business industries
- Established copywriters in healthcare and business industries
- Marketing managers
- The key people I’d like to connect with are:
(A hat tip to Arlene O’Reilly of Really Clear Marketing for the information.)
There. I did it! Now, what you didn’t witness is this: the time ticking on the wall clock as I ponder what I truly want and jot down several answers, while being distracted. You didn’t see the confusion as I’m thinking or the angst building in the pit of my stomach. The emotions zig zagging as I deciphered the core reasons of why I was attending the conference.
But we’re not done yet. Next, we need to review the answers and turn them into modest goals. The goals are broken down in little, doable steps derived from the main goal. In my case, my highest priority is growing my copywriting business. So my mini-goals could be, for example, “I will introduce myself to three people at the writing workshop on Tuesday,” or “I will talk with two new people at the afternoon break.”
I try to narrow the modest goals to a few. If a mini-goal won’t help me reach my main goal, I delete it and move on.
2. Prepare for Conversations
Now, at first glance, this point may seem silly. Prepare for something that we do every day? Practice having a conversation? A marketing conference is a different setting than, say, talking with your neighbor at the school bus stop.
No doubt we attend conferences for the “meet and greet.” You’ll be meeting people who need your products or services. People will meet you and want to solve your problems. It’s business/human nature.
How to do you get ready now for the conversations later?
Be ready to say your elevator pitch.
The one question we can expect to be asked is this, “What do you do?” Soo recommends having three unique talking points about your business. She suggests the points relate to your ideal client in some way and demonstrate how you help people.
She uses two formulas to help you explain what you do.
- I help X-people achieve Y-goal.
If you’re a web designer, you may say, “I help digital advertising agency owners by creating unique, engaging websites for their clients.”
- I help X-people solve Y-problem.
For example, a consultant could say, “I help business owners market their products and services to millennials.”
By explaining in simple, concrete words, you will improve the likelihood that people will understand you..
Be curious and listen.
Liz Ryan, CEO and founder of Human Workplace, said the key to being more comfortable meeting others is being curious of the other person.
And remember to put on your listening ears. Conversation is valuable to both parties when it’s a two-way exchange.
One more idea. To help you feel more comfortable initiating a conversation, try this …
Memorize conversation starters.
- What’s your favorite part of the event so far?
- How did you hear about this event?
- Which speakers are you most excited about hearing?
- How did you hear about the event?/What brought you to this event?
- What sessions have you liked so far?
- Have you come to the conference by yourself or with others from your company?
- I love your [article of clothing], where’d you get it?
- Hi, I’m [Name]. I don’t believe we’ve met yet.
- Hi, I’m [Name]. I think I met you at XYZ event. Were you there?
- Hi, I saw your name on the invitation list. I’m excited to get a chance to connect!
- What do you do?
- What drew you to that line of work?
- What do you like about your job?
- Who is your ideal client?
- Who are some of your favorite experts or authors?
- What’s your favorite restaurant in the city?
- Are you traveling anywhere exciting this year?
- What are you most excited about in your business right now?
Sources: Selena Soo and 18 Conversation Starters for Networking Events
3. Follow Up with the People You’ve Met
I’ve found that if I don’t have a system planned in advance, then I don’t follow up with the many great contacts I make. Afterwards, I have only a stack of strangers’ business cards. And how is that helpful? It’s not. What’s the value in collecting business cards? Um, zip.
Also, if you did #1, then doing the follow-up is more manageable. You will know exactly what kind of people you seek and who you want to connect with.
You may want to consider the following tips:
Manage business cards.
Bring business cards. This is important. I’m amazed at the number of people who I talk to at an event and don’t have a business card. But confession here: I attended a seminar in May and realized I brought business cards with the old (wrong) email address. So shame on me for judging others! Okay, so I’ve corrected my mistake. I ordered new business cards and they’re ready to go. A reminder for all: Have attractive business cards that are current, clean and accessible to exchange with others.
Decide on a place you’ll put everyone’s business cards. For me, I have a zippered pocket in my purse and a rubber band to secure them later.
Record good notes.
Bring paper for notes. Now, Soo recommends a notebook, but I find notebooks cumbersome with tasty appetizers and a refreshing drink in my hand. I use a piece of lined notebook paper folded to record notes in shorthand about the people I meet when they don’t have a business card. It’s also useful when a person’s business card is printed on both sides with no room for your notes.
When you want to continue to get to know someone you’ve met, make notes about the topics discussed during the conversation. Record their interests like favorite hobbies or family activities. If you offered to introduce them to someone or send them valuable information, then write it down.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is how much you get out of a conference is direct proportion to your participation. You could ask questions of speakers and take part in discussions. You can come with an inquiring mind, and an openness to people, ideas, and knowledge. Or you can wish you had stayed home. The choice is up to you.
What advice would you give to help people boost their confidence as they prepare for a conference?