I’m just back from a trip to Toronto for a conference. There was much anticipation leading up to this—conference calls on my end with my team, a lot of considering how to make the most use of our time while there, and a lot of reviewing of the conference program.
The big surprise at this event wasn’t the learning, though we did learn a few new things. It wasn’t the size; it was a good size, not overwhelming as some are. And, the big surprise wasn’t the food; admit it, we all talk about the food whenever we attend conferences or trade shows and have those meal coupons that get us a boxed lunch or something like it.
The big surprise was the people. As hard as we tried to be friendly, approachable and interested in the other attendees, they did their best to ignore us. Why? My guesses: because we weren’t Canadian and because we're “only bloggers.”
If you’re putting together a conference or an event to bring in leads and opportunities that connect you to influencers, here are five ways to connect without really trying, along with five ways to really screw things up, which is what happened at this event.
Five ways to connect without really trying:
1. Smile. Really, a smile goes a long way. Don’t just stand at your booth, or sit at a session table and smile on greeting, continue smiling as you engage in conversation.
2. Jot down notes as you listen to the other person. This conveys the idea that you’re listening and the person talking is saying something worthwhile.
3. Practice your handshake. Strong but not overpowering is what you’re going for. Never, never offer limp fingers—please, limp fingers end the relationship right there.
4. Make eye-contact but don’t be rude by staring. Wait until your new connection is done making her point before beginning to make your point.
5. Wait for the contact to ask for your business card. If that doesn’t happen, ask for theirs. I have lately met good professionals who, I’m convinced, purposely leave their business cards in their room. They ask for yours so they can be in charge of the conversation. While I understand this, I believe it borders on being rude. If you don’t want to be contacted, just reply to the follow-up e-mail with a polite, “It was so nice to meet you at XYZ conference. Right now, however, we’re so overwhelmed with projects, I hope you’ll understand if I don’t get back to you right away.”
Five ways to really screw things up:
1. Pretend you don’t know there is someone standing at your booth eager to talk. Scan the room for someone taller, better looking, better dressed, whatever it is that is important to you. Allow the person who is eager to talk to finally give up and stroll away. Heave a big sigh.
2. If No. 1 doesn’t work, nod your head while your new contact is talking, while looking at your hands, or your feet, or checking your watch. Never let the new contact feel that his or her silly conversation is of any value. Answer questions with one word. Give a limp handshake when contact finally gets the hint and goes away.
3. Pretend you’re interested in the contact until you find out he or she is (a) media (Gawd! what do you want with media?), (b) a new business owner who obviously can’t afford your services or your product, (c) a blogger. Especially (c)… I mean, really, a blogger? Do you really want a blogger with a following of thousands of other bloggers to write about you?
4. Talk rapidly making sure you give all the details of your product or service, making sure the contact cannot get a word in edgewise because if she does, you’ll lose your train of thought and forget to mention something really important. When you pause to take a breath and the contact begins to talk, rush in before she is can get far and add more information about you, you, you. It’s sure to stun her into silence.
5. Don't smile or engage in the conversation. When you discover the person is only a blogger, only an entrepreneur in need of advice as much as connections, or representing a company you’ve never heard of and sounds too small to matter, make an excuse to leave the room… then find another place to sit. Sit low in your knew seat so the contact cannot see you…in case she scans the room to see how well attended the session is. At your exhibit booth, turn her over to ‘Harry’, your newest salesperson, because he’s better suited to serve her needs. In other words, let her waste Harry’s time, not yours.
I experienced more of the ways to screw up than the ways to make connections at the event in Toronto. I attended as “media” because I’m a blogger and was representing my new blog community. It was surprising how many otherwise ‘smart’ people still think bloggers do nothing more than write about their daily chores or why they love/hate Charlie Sheen. It’s also amazing that so many large brands are still relying on old media to move their message in the right direction.
Everyone you meet is connected to thousands of other people via social media. Your interest in them, your conversation about yourself and about them, even your handshake, will be conveyed to their network via blogs, Facebook, Twitter and even Skype when they leave your physical presence. Be nice.
Start with a smile. End with a firm handshake.