As most of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota celebrates the Minnesota Vikings victory last night; I am in my hotel room preparing to speak on the second day of a travel conference to a group of travel agents at the St. Paul River Centre.
To so many, a conference means endless hours of travel, crammed airplanes, confusing rental cars and GPS directions, sessions on things we already know and, let’s not forget, chicken and rice and/or beef tips and asparagus.
However, a conference should mean learning new things, meeting new people and opening many more doors to success. Here are a few things you can do to take advantage of the conference experience and continue to build a stage for success in anything you do:
- Utilize social media and all it has to offer. Prior to leaving for your conference, join Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Get familiar with all three. And find out if the conference has a Twitter hashtag associated with this particular event. Learn what that means and how it works. You don’t want to miss any chance to network in business. You’ll also appear forward thinking instead of totally out of touch.
- Take plenty of business cards. This is not the time to leave them at home or back in your hotel room. And remember, don’t force that card on people but have it available if a connection is made with someone and both of you would like to keep in touch to share information. Have that card readily available so you’re not digging in the “goodie bag,” through your purse or in your pockets. Nice, neat business cards – nothing bent and crammed into a pocket. *If you can have something a little different as a business card, all the better. I use a guitar pick – definitely gets attention. Peter Shankman uses a poker chip. Houston clothing designer Bob Stover uses a card with pop-out collar stays.
- Traveling to the conference? Take that time to pick up a magazine or newspaper at the newsstand while waiting for your flight or train – but pick up a periodical on something you know nothing about or could care less about. For me that would be NASCAR. No offense guys, but I just don’t get the whole car sport thing. However, NASCAR does brand better than any business, anywhere, hands down. I picked up some great marketing ideas from a NASCAR publication. Reading something you don’t know anything about opens up your mind in new ways and will make you more open to new ideas and ways of doing things.
- Sign up for at least one session that is totally out of your field, which has nothing to do with your expertise. You just may find a new expertise to add to your resume. Never stop learning. Never stop trying new things. This is the place to do it. You are here, you have the time and the experts are here with the information.
- Sit with strangers at lunch. Don’t gravitate to the people you already know. This is not high school, this is an excellent opportunity to meet and network with others in your field of business and form new relationships. And, by the way, relationships are EVERYTHING.
- This is not the time to be shy. During sessions, in the hall, at lunch, at the cocktail party. Again, relationships are everything. You are here to learn AND to network. As someone once told me, “you’ll never get a date sitting on the couch at home.” Or in your hotel room watching Friends reruns.
- Do your homework and find out as much as you can about the conference before and during the event. Look over the event website before you go and read everything in the conference giveaway bag when you get there. Most of it you probably already know and really don’t need, but you won’t know that until you look at all of it. Familiarize yourself with who is at the conference, the facilitators and speakers, and all the sessions. Something just may catch your eye. The worst thing you can do is wait to read it all when you get back on the plane and realize you missed a great opportunity to see a speaker or attend a session.
- Last but not least, don’t forget the follow-up. Take those cards you have gathered and send a brief note saying “it was nice to meet you” and “hope we can work together in the future” or, even better, “let me know if there is anything I can do for you in the future.” Emails, a Facebook post, a tweet on Twitter, a message on LinkedIn – all are good ways to follow-up. The best way though? A handwritten note. That will make the biggest impression.
Despite the travel hassles and the same food across the country at the lunch and/or dinner, a conference is still one of the best ways to keep up with your industry, network with like-minded individuals and form relationships and, open your mind to new ideas and new ways of doing things. You are away from home and loved ones. Make it worth the sacrifice and make that stage for success even more secure!