Over the last 2 weeks, I’ve attended my first two big industry events since the pandemic began. Yes, it was a little awkward. Yes, I wasn’t on my A+ networking game. But yes, it still felt awfully good to see people in person again.
During those two events (the Florida PR Association Annual Conference and the Digital Marketing Summit in Minneapolis), I’ll be fully transparent: I struggled. I thought my presentations went pretty well at both events. But, from a networking/meeting and talking to people perspective, I didn’t feel super comfortable.
And that’s probably to be expected. We’ve been holed up in our homes for 2+ years, after all! But, I also tried a few of my old strategies when it comes to meeting new folks at events and being the best attendee I can be. So, even though I wasn’t on my A game the last couple weeks, I thought I’d share some approaches that have worked for me over the years at events that I’m planning to put in action in the weeks ahead–because there are plenty of good events coming up (including the PRSA Midwest District Conference in Sept.).
1 – Always talk to the speaker after their presentation
I don’t say this as a way to get more people to come up and talk to me after my presentations–although I do love that! I say it because I think it’s an excellent way to connect with those who are often the most connected people at these events. I’ve had great success with this approach in the past–and I put it into use again at these recent events. For example, Jim Tobin presented early on day one of the Digital Marketing Summit. Jim and I have “known” each other very loosely via social media for years, but I haven’t seen or talked to him for at least 5 years. So, I thought I’d just go up, re-introduce myself and congratulate him on a great presentation. He seemed to instantly recognize me and we a nice chat for a few minutes. And now, it’s opened the door for me to follow-up with him this week and stay a little more connected in the future. I also approached another speaker I didn’t know at all later in the day just to say “nice work” on the prezo. We got to chatting about the Pacific Northwest since he lives in Portland. Another nice little chat. And I can tell you from a speaker perspective, you definitely remember the people who talk to you after your presentations. Just a super easy thing to do that will allow you to meet some super-connected people.
2 – Put down the damn phone
This one I haven’t been as good at lately. But, I’m trying! And I saw a lot of other people struggling with it, too, at the Digital Marketing Summit. As we all waited for speakers to begin, most of us were looking at our phones at our tables, mindlessly scrolling through a combination of social media and work emails. And we were ignoring the huge opportunity we had right in front of ourselves to connect with real people! Next time you’re at an event, resist the urge to check your phone. In fact, I may just put my phone away entirely so it’s not a temptation. This will almost force you to talk to people at your tables. And really, that’s one of the biggest benefits of conferences like the ones I’ve recently attended. The hallway convos. The happy hours. The side conversations. Don’t kill those by being on your phone.
3 – Connect with everyone you meet on LinkedIn–and send a personal invite
Might seem obvious, but it’s worth repeating. You never know how that person you randomly met at an event might be able to help you down the road. Quick story and example. In recently attending the Florida PR Association Annual Conference, I met a woman who I kind of instantly “hit it off with” in a networking sense. I could tell we’d be fast friends. But, I didn’t get her business card and forgot her name after the event. I asked a mutual friend about her name, found her on LinkedIn and sent her an invite. She quickly accepted. We had a nice DM back-and-forth and now we’re talking about next year’s event already and how I might be able to help (she’s in charge of running the conference in 2023).
4 – Go with a friend, but don’t sit next to them all the time
It’s intimidating to attend events right now. We’re all a little nervous. Every one of us. So, going to an event with a friend makes sense. It’s our security blanket. However, having that security blanket at the event also means you may not reach out and meet new people. You may be content to sit by your friend the entire conference and just talk to him/her. My advice: Go to the event with your friend, but commit to attending different sessions and not sitting by each other. Meet new people throughout the day and then compare notes at the end of the day. That way, you get the benefit of learning what your friend learned in the other sessions–and you should be forced to meet a few new people along the way.
5 – Don’t beat yourself up–and just meet 2-3 new people
It bears repeating: We’re all a little nervous right now. No one is on their A game when it comes to human interaction. So, don’t beat yourself up if you feel a little weird at events. Most people feel the exact same way. Instead, keep expectations minimal to start. Just try to meet a few new people. This was the approach I took at the events I attended and it helped tremendously. And you know what? Just going up and talking to speakers after their prezos, I hit my goal of meeting 2-3 new people at the event. Result: Afterward, I felt great, met a few new folks and have built confidence for that next event in Sept.