Networking, or how to market yourself at events: some parctical hints.
I have lost count of the events I have been to over the years either as an attendee or as a speaker. Thinking back at this experience, I feel that I have made every possible mistake, though always learning from my missteps. So, I would like to share some of the things I have done well (and some of those I should have avoided doing).
Phase one: Preparation
1.1. Get hold of - and analyze - the attendees’ list.
1.2. Select brands of interest, you’d like to get in touch with.
1.3. Check their representatives present at the event.
1.4. Possibly individuate them as early as possible.
1.5. Think of which sessions and topics in the event agenda may be of interest to them.
1.6. Always check whether persons you already know are in attendance. If so, never miss to get in touch and to say hello.
1.7. Avoid “over doing”: the number of people selected for approach must be reasonable (and managable).
1.8. No sense in abandoning yourself to the illusion that event attendance will result immediately in ten new mandates.
Phase two: Approach
2.1. Arrange to meet targets “casually” (e.g. at the registration desk, at the coffee machine, the breakfast buffet, at a table in the breakfast area; ‘break the ice’ by asking whether you may sit down at their table).
2.2. Keep it simple when introducing yourself (no immediate draw of business cards, no extensive reference to your law firm and its 10 naming partners, rather say “Hi, I am John from Mongolia. Where are you from?”).
2.3. Manage to start a “conversation” by talking about the event and its sessions, explaining what you expect to be interesting; ask your target about why he/she is attending (and which are the topics he/she would like being covered).
2.4. If you succeed in ‘hooking up’, try to build a personal relationship (e.g. by talking about your country/home town/family and by inquiring about the other individual’s personal interests or hobbies).
2.5. Try to find out whether your target is planning to visit your country and offer tips about locations/museums to visit or restaurants to try.
2.6. If your target addresses business issues or event topics, try to appear as a useful resource for valuable information, not as a ‘business hungry’ wolf.
2.7. Bear in mind: If the target person has no business interest in your country, he/she won’t “invent” one just because you have met. But, he/she will remind a nice person in case such business interest should pop up at a later moment.
2.8. Always make a short stop at the Bar of the event Hotel. Sometimes you get a chance to make a follow up of a first meet in a less crowded context.
2.9. Offer your business card, when asked for (you can always remind the target about yourself and your contact details by doing a follow up after the event on the LinkedIn platform). It shows that you care about the ‘person’, not just for the business.
2.10. ‘Pestering’ target or excessively invasive approaches will make your prospects fleeing away (while they are available for interesting meets, they won’t appreciate getting harassed).
2.11. Mind that business cards’ exchange is not automatically equal to new business! INTA is the biggest stock exchange for business cards worldwide, but does it always result in real business?
2.12. Areas in front of a restroom are probably not the best place for a first approach
Phase three: During the event
3.1. Go early to the sessions and possibly take a seat close to a ‘selected target’ (better if you have already established a previous contact).
3.2. Use the coffee breaks for getting in touch, but talk about the sessions, not about yourself and your firm.
3.3. You can change approach during the lunch breaks or the cocktail reception at the end of day one: they are designated for networking, so people are more prepared and willing to talk about their businesses and yours. Take advantage of being a member of an international network: other attendees may not be immediately interested in your country, but in the jurisdictions of your fellow members. If the network benefits, you are also going to benefit, even though indirectly. Next time, it may go the other way around. Play team with your colleagues.
3.4. During the sessions, have a good question ready for Q&A. It gives you some visibility and the other attendees in the room may remind your face. But, don’t overdo it!
3.5. After a presentation/session, try to talk to a panel member and offer your congrats, together with an inquiry on an aspect which had been addressed. Give him/her interesting information about how this aspect is differently regulated in your jurisdiction. Offer additional details, if desired. Remember, speakers are mostly at the events for reasons identical to yours.
3.6. Give the organizer’s representative some credit and appreciation, have a friendly word with organizer’s staff, especially when you attend events on an ongoing basis. You will realize how important this is, should you ever need a small deadline extension for handing in your papers or slides
3.7. Restrain from excessive show offs.
3.8. Do not brag about how many cases you and your firm have recently won (eventually explain that you have been involved in a case and show that you have familiarity with a certain topic).
3.9. Avoid relying on stereotypes (the person you are talking to may just fall into the category stereotypes refer to).
3.10. Don’t lecture! Having a conversation, implies listening to others and allowing them to explain their point.
3.11. Never try to “block” people in the afternoon of the event’s last day, when they have their trolleys ready and are about to rush to the airport. They won’t listen but consider you as a nuisance.
Phase four: After the event
4.1. Never miss to send the persons you have met (at least those you consider as interesting prospects) a kind e-mail, letting them know that you enjoyed meeting them and exchanging views (at the breakfast/lunch table or during the sessions). This may – at least - put you on the targeted person’s contacts list or have them remind you as nice person.
4.2. Make sure you have those prospects on your address list as well.
4.3. If you have done something that could fall into the person’s area of interest (e.g. an article on a session topic), send it out to those new contacts.
4.4. Consider inviting them to join your contacts’/friends’ list on Linkedin (or on another social media which you are present on).
4.5. Ask them whether they will in attendance of one of the upcoming events you are planning to cover (and offer them to have another chat over a drink or coffee). You need to refresh such a light relationship.
4.6. Restrain from flooding your new contacts with an excessive amount of material (you risk being considered just as another spammer). Everything needs to look as casual and easy, not as over-planned.
4.7. Do not insist on keeping in touch, if your contact is not reactive to your moves.
4.8. Restrain from throwing yourself at the person if you meet him/her again and from monopolizing the contact’s time (he/she has certainly a time schedule for the attended event). Once, you have recognized your contact, carefully consider when and how to approach (the more casual it looks, the better).