Tips to make the most of your time at Conference pt. 2: Social Events

We really enjoyed putting together our tips fora successful time away at conference so we’ve put our heads back together to think purely about how to get the most out of social events.

One of the main reasons that people site for attending a conference is the networking opportunities; making the social events more than just a drinking session! I remember being at an ICCA event years ago and being told that you will find out more from conference during your time at the bar then at sessions and you know what, it’s true. Peoples barriers come down in more social atmospheres be it over breakfast in the hotel or a glass of wine at a gala dinner so check out the tips below fora successful time at your networking events or gala dinner. Remember to read the conference tips first too as they also apply to this situation but mainly these are the ones that are the most important to keep in mind when at a social event;

5. Why are you going to conference? Ask yourself this and then write down several problems / tasks / questions you’re trying to solve / achieve / answer before you get to the conference. This will give you purpose, help you plan the experience properly and is the one tip I advise everyone follows. When you browse the exhibition, interact with other delegates and listen to speakers keep your problems / questions in mind and they will ground your conference experience. This purpose will help your interactions with others be much more meaningful and your time at conference far more successful.

12. Learn how to start a conversation; This is a tip that I always stand by as I remember the first time the Brighton Centre let me spread my wings and head to a conference alone, I was terrified! Even though I am a social person that can talk for England deep down I can be really shy but meeting other people is part of the conference experience, and if we are honest many of us are shy introverts. Here are a few simple questions you can use to immediately start any conversation:
– What did you think of that session
– Where are you from
– What do you think of the conference so far?
– What session are you planning to attend next?
– What do you do at your company? (Refer to their nametag)
These ice-breaker questions get somewhat trite after a while but they begin any conversation and that’s what you need to be able to do. After breaking the ice, move into the questions you really want answers about (the purpose of your visit to conference).

13. And learn how to end one; For a shy person it may be tempting to stay talking with one delegate for a long amount of time once your in a comfortable flow but one of the most important things about attending conference is meeting lots of new people – you’ll probably learn more from your fellow delegates than the speakers so, when you’re trapped in a conversation that you can’t escape (at a break time networking activity, for example), there are several ways to get away. Try these escape clauses. Always begin, “Well, it was nice meeting you,” followed by;
– I think I’m going to mingle around to the rest of the place.
– Do you have a business card?
– I’m going to get some more food.
– I think I recognise someone over there that I want to say hello to.
If none of these work just stop talking… it’s hard but it works and the other person will probably terminate the conversation for you eventually.

So, now you have refreshed your memory here are our tips to make the most of your time at a social event.

1. Have a plan. Know in advance who you want to meet (directly or the type of people) and search them down.

2. Get there early. That way a cluster of conversation builds up around you and you don’t face the challenge of working your way into other clusters like you do if you arrive late.

3. Stand out. Wear something brightly coloured; a tie or scarf or dress. In a room full of black and grey suits you’ll be the one that stands out in the crowd and that people will remember.

4. Acknowledge everyone. When you walk into the room, take the time before the event begins to say hello to the people seated or standing around you; it’s called the “power of hello”. Once you have said something as simple as “hello”, it will be easier to talk with them later in the evening or week if you see them again.

5. Play ‘host’. Another great way to meet people is to play the role of informal host. For example, know where the host or celebrity guests are, where the bathroom is, the name of the waitress/bartender, etc. Stand near the entrance and be of service to people.

6. Be someone’s saviour. If you see someone standing on their own looking a bit lost, go up and say ‘hello’! They’re probably more nervous than you are, and will almost certainly be rather relieved to have someone to speak to they’ll remember you for a very long time.

7. Introduce others. When you meet cool people, be the conduit who connects them with others who might be beneficial to them. If you ask the right types of questions, you will easily spot connections that can help others. Don’t ever worry about “what’s in it for me”, but instead just be the person who helps others. You will over time that others will help you too.

8. Ask questions of people you meet. Never lead with your “sales pitch”. People are more interested in themselves than they are in you, so ask them questions to help them get to talking – just like going on a date!

9. And make sure the questions are Open-Ended. This is a great skill for anyone who can’t stand all the repetitive small talk associated with meeting people the first time. The goal here is to always ask people questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. Pick questions that demand a real answer, like, “How has your industry changed in the past 10 years?” “What are your members / customers / clients asking for the most?” and “Why do you think that is?” As a general rule of thumb “why” questions generate the most interesting answers and conversations.

10. Make sure to sit next to someone you don’t know yet. As tempting as it may be to talk to people you already know at a drinks reception or sit with them at dinner (if there isn’t a table plan) – DON’T! Make the effort to speak to only new people as you never know what you might learn.

11. Don’t hate, collaborate! If you meet someone you’d usually class as a ‘competitor’, try and look past it: get to know them, ask questions, you’d be surprised how many opportunities arise from collaborating with others within your industry.

12. Put your technology away. Do not run to your BlackBerry every time you are left alone. When you are working on electronics you send the message that you are unapproachable because you are busy but do take the time to tweet at appropriate moments – photos or compliments about the event make great post and remember to use the conference hashtag.

13. Do not automatically send a LinkedIn or Facebook request. So often people immediately send social networking link requests to people they just met. However, different people have different policies about whom they link with. If they believe in only connecting with those whom they have established relationships, you make it awkward if you send them a link too early (which they then ignore). Best is to ask people if they would welcome such a link at this time. Be respectful of the fact that they might use social networking differently than you do. Immediately following them on Twitter is okay, as Twitter does not require a mutual connection acceptance then make a brief post about your conversation with them. Promoting other people is a great way to create value for them and build the relationship.

14. Follow up. If you meet interesting people and you never follow up, it makes no difference. Own the follow up after you meet people and send them all a quick email saying how nice it was to meet them, that way you’ve opened up the communication line. So when you get business cards, jot a brief note on the back – where you met them, what you talked about, etc. That will make it much easier to follow up with them.

15. Practice. Think of networking like any other professional skill. While others in the room may look like born networkers, they are likely just more experienced. It’s something you have to learn through trial and error. And the only way to improve is to just get out there and do it

Now, most importantly…

16. Limit Your Drinking! You might think that a few stiff drinks will help you relax and mingle. There’s nothing wrong with a drink or two, but know your limit. When talking with potential clients or referrals, you want to be as sharp, clear and on top of your game as possible, and alcohol doesn’t always help in these areas. In fact, recent research shows that people are more likely to go over their limit when drinking at a work function than at a bar or party. Remember, you want to portray yourself as someone others want to work with, not necessarily drink with.

Networking and social events can be scary for some and by setting the stakes too high you suck all the fun out of the event and put an inordinate amount of pressure on your shoulders. Change your mindset and follow our tips. It’s all about staying relaxed and remembering you’re not there to get. Instead, you’re there to contribute to the event, help others or just learn what other professionals are doing. This little change in thinking will boost your sense of purpose and self-worth and erase that overwhelming pressure. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself having a good time, developing strong relationships and attracting loads of contacts.

Rebecca

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