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Networking Tips: How to Get More From Attending Conferences

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Be more interested than interesting
- John Gardner, founder of Common Cause


Be more fascinated than fascinating
- Warren Bennis, author of Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership

  • How often do you meet new people at a conference and wish you had more productive conversations?
  • How often do you think afterward, "I wish I had spoken to more people?"
  • How often do you find yourself in a long conversation that you would like to politely disengage from so that you can continue to meet other people?
  • How often would you like to make a meaningful connection to one of the speakers?

Some of the best tips for addressing these come from Patrick Henry, Assistant Professor of Clinical Entrepreneurship at the USC Marshall School of Business and a Los Angeles based expert on networking at: http://fishingcoach.net and Keith Ferrazzi, author of the two mega best sellers, "Never Eat Alone" and "Who's Got Your Back?" and creator of the Big Task Weekend.

To address "wishing you had more productive conversations" Patrick suggests that when you meet people, ask them three questions:

  1. What does your organization or company do?
  2. What do you do at or for your company?
  3. What are you looking for at this conference or who would be a good person for you to meet that could help your company or you so that if I run into someone like that I could introduce them to you?

And then be of service to them by making those introductions or suggesting resources including books that might help them.

To address "wishing you had spoken to more people," Patrick suggests that having more purposeful and focused conversations using the above questions will enable you to meet and talk to more people.

Keith offers another tip about meeting more people and triggering gratitude. He says, "Go up to the person standing alone, engage them and befriend them, because no person goes to a conference wanting to be left alone; they're alone because they're shy. Realize that some of the most accomplished and successful people, especially in the high-tech age, are the most personally shy. Befriend such a person and you can't imagine the appreciation and good will it will generate."

Learning how to "disengage from long conversations" will also help you meet more people.

To do that, Patrick suggests being honest and forthright and saying, "I can see that there is much more I would like to find out about you and your company, especially with regard to people I might be able to introduce to you as a source of business or who might be able to help you; but just like you, there are many other people I would like to meet at this conference. So would you be kind enough to give me one of your cards so I can write down a few notes to remind me of what we spoke about and then could I follow up with you later?"

Regarding "connecting with one of the main speakers," Patrick advises that you be the first person to ask a question after they finish speaking. Why? If there is a pause after someone speaks and there is a call for questions, it can be awkward for both the speaker and the audience. And if you are that speaker (which I have been), you don't believe that silence is because you've been profound; you believe it's because you may have been off track. When you ask a question that both the speaker would want to answer and that audience would want to hear, you provide a service to both.

One question, when appropriate to the talk, that I have found useful to ask is, "If you had it to do over again, what is something you would have done differently that would have saved you a lot of hassles later on?" That almost always generates an answer that the speaker wants to answer and that the audience wants to hear.

Focus on being of service and being more interested than interesting and there is a good chance people will return the favor by being the same with you.

And of course it never hurts to "Just Listen."