This week, Susan Hayes, a financial training and business consultant www.thepositive economist.com based in Ireland, gives tips for networking at international conferences on the eve of Alphe Russia and ahead of ICEF Berlin.

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“As the managing director of an international training company, I attend a fair share of overseas conferences, fairs and events. Through the years, I've learned some precious lessons that I'd like to share with you!

Don't overschedule.

The upcoming ICEF workshop in Berlin is masterfully organised and offers you the ability to coordinate your schedule with others at the conference. Once you register for the conference, you can access an online planner that allows you to schedule meetings in 30-minutes increments. This planner also allows you to schedule meetings during coffee and refreshment breaks. This might be a good thing, but it's a double-edged sword, so use it wisely. Yes, you want to maximise your time at the conference by meeting as many contacts as possible. But you also need to factor in two things: your energy levels and serendipity.

Just because you can schedule yet another meeting, doesn't necessarily mean you should: if needed, preserve some recovery time, otherwise your system might shut down before the end of the conference! And then, serendipity is a wonderful business tool that is sometimes under-utilised: by keeping ‘empty’ slots in your appointment schedule you open yourself up to opportunities. It has happened so many times that somebody said to me, ‘Do you have 15 minutes to speak with somebody I just met who has spent about three months searching for exactly what you can offer?’ If you budget time for positive surprises, they often turn up!

Prepare, prepare, prepare.

I know, I know – you're already overstretched as it is! You barely have time to wrap urgent things up before you leave on the conference, let alone think of how the conference will unfold. But if you can take even just half an hour to think of the following questions, it will lead to wonderful actionable insights.

In your mind's eye, play an advance preview of the conference: who will you meet? What do you want to tell them? What do you want to ask them? It's highly likely that this visualisation will unlock a plethora of useful insights you didn't even know were there, like remembering to bring items you were about to forget, or coming up with a novel marketing and follow-up idea, or a more focused ‘elevator pitch’.

Think of all the different moments of the conference, starting with the end in mind: what would make you say attending the workshop was a success? Define two or three major goals, and work back from that vision of success to piece together its component parts: to reach your objective, what steps do you need to achieve?

Plan your follow-up in advance.

This is the most important step of them all. Only 10 per cent of the work is done at the event, the remaining 90 per cent comes afterwards in the form of turning a very light connection into a meaningful contact. I budget a specific amount of time into my diary to follow up on an event at the same time as I put the conference in my diary in the first place. This has revolutionised the return on my time.

After the conference, how will you pick up the contact with the people you met? Clear your schedule with designated slots in which to fit phone calls, Skype calls, or coffee or lunch meetings, if relevant. You might go one step further and plan to stay in the location after the conference, even just for half a day: other agents and educators who have come a long way might be planning to do the same. This will give you a further networking opportunity in a more relaxed atmosphere.

If you will be targeting a certain geographic area at the conference, plan a trip in that region even before you leave for the conference. Then follow-up will be as easy as, ‘I will be in your area for one week between this and that date. Could we meet up then?’ It happens to me all the time: when people know you will be in their country for a limited period, they go out of their way to find the time to meet you and reorganise their schedule in order to do so.”

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