Going to business conferences is one of the best ways to meet other people in your industry. Those people can turn into clients, into employers, into partners or into referral engines to help you broaden your reach even further. Going to conferences allows you to get outside your world and meet people doing innovative things.
There’s a right way and a wrong way to do business conferences. If you do it the wrong way, you’ll walk away from the conference with little to show for it. In the worst case scenario, you’ll actually damage your reputation. On the other hand, if you do it right, you can walk away from a business conference with new contacts and new ideas that can catapult your career to the next level.
These are ten of the most common mistakes people make at business conferences. If you want to meet new contact, boost your brand and make the most of your time at the conference, make sure you avoid these mistakes.
Mistake #1: Not Attending the Unofficial Events
Business conferences are often accompanied by unofficial events. For example, Group XYZ might be hosting a breakfast, Speaker ABC might be hosting an unofficial Q&A session or someone might have started an informal meetup for drinks after the event.
Often time’s this is where you’ll make the best connections. It’s where people have their guards down and aren’t bombarded by vendors trying to slip them their business cards. It gives you time to chat and get to know people. This is where you can develop real friendships, rather than just exchange contact information.
Mistake #2: Not Seeking Out Speaking Opportunities
Being a speaker at a business conference is one of the most powerful ways in the world for building influence and connections. The moment you step on stage and present yourself as an expert, everyone in your industry will see you differently.
Don’t expect conference organizers to come and seek you out. Instead, build your personal brand to the point where you’d be a credible speaker, then reach out to conference hosts. Remember: Conference hosts need speakers just as much as you want the exposure.
Make sure to make contact at least 6 months in advance, preferably 9 months to a year in advance. Putting together a conference and marketing a conference takes a lot of work, so the earlier they can book a speaker the better.
Mistake #3: Not Honing Your Elevator Pitch
One of the most common questions you’re going to hear at the conference is: “So, what do you do?”
You’ll essentially have about 30 seconds to impress that person. You need to clearly succinctly and passionately explain what you do in such a way that other people want to be involved.
Don’t expect to be able to knock it out of the park just because you’re charismatic. The best elevator pitches need to be practiced and honed. Ask a colleague to help you figure out the best possible angle to present yourself in. Make sure you can say everything you need to say in under a minute.
Mistake #4: Not Identifying Key Individuals Beforehand
Who are the three most important people you want to meet at the conference? You should attend every conference with a few “key targets” you want to meet.
You might try to figure out who’s attending by looking at the speaker roster or the trade show booth roster. You can also check Twitter. For example, if you’re going to the SXSW convention, you can look through the Twitter feeds of influencers in your industry to see if they’re going.
Compile a “fact sheet” on your key targets. What might you propose if you ran into them? How can you bring value to their lives and their business?
Prepare yourself to make key connections by figuring out who you want to meet and what you’ll say when you meet them.
Mistake #5: Not Following Up Within 24 Hours
At a conference, people will literally meet and exchange business cards with several dozen people. Even if you make a good impression at the conference, their memory of you can fade very quickly.
If you make a connection with someone at the conference, it’s absolutely essential that you follow up with them within 24 hours. Just a simple note saying that it was nice to meet them or a note recapping the main points of your conversation will suffice.
Dropping them that email right away helps reinforce that you really do want to build a relationship. This is perhaps the most important conference habit you could develop.
Mistake #6: Staying in Another Hotel
Most conferences are held either in a conference center or in a hotel. Of course, staying at the hotel where a conference is held is going to cost a chunk of change. That’s why a lot of people choose to stay further away to save a bit of money.
That’s a mistake.
A lot of networking happens between the halls of the conference’s hotel. Remember: Literally hundreds of people attending the same event will be staying at that hotel. You can bump into them in the elevator, in the halls, at breakfast or really anywhere.
Staying at the same hotel as the event maximizes your chances of fruitful chance meetings. If you stay outside the hotel, you completely forgo these opportunities.
If the conference is in a hotel, make sure you’re staying in that hotel. If the conference is at a conference center, stay as close to the conference center as possible.
Mistake #7: Not Being Open to Business Proposals
If you’re going to a conference with one goal in mind and shut yourself off to other possibilities, you’re going to miss out on a lot of potential opportunities.
For example, let’s say you run a company that sells custom email marketing solutions. You’re attending the conference to meet new clients.
At one of the vendor booths is a company that’s developed a new type of email server infrastructure. They could cut your costs by as much as 20%. If you’re only single-mindedly trying to meet clients, you’re going to miss out on a huge potential money saver.
There are all kinds of people who can help you in all kinds of ways at a business conference. Go with an open mind and see how you can find win-win relationships with people there.
Mistake #8: Not Trying to Help People
At every business conference, there’ll be a handful of people who seem determined not to help people or not to reveal anything about their business. If you ask them how they get their web traffic, they might say “it’s a secret.” If you ask them what projects they’re developing, they might say “we’re in stealth mode.”
The people who walk away from conferences with real contacts and real potential connections are the people that go out of their way to help people. They reveal what’s working for them in their business. They look for ways to help boost other people’s revenues and offer a helping hand for free.
These people garner a lot of goodwill. It’s these people that’ll later land contracts, find mentors or get promoted. Aim to help, even if you can’t immediately see how it’ll come back to benefit you.
Mistake #9: Spending Too Much Time on the Wrong People
It’s important to remember that a business conference only lasts for a very finite period of time. You might have 10 hours a day for 2 days – And that’s all the time you have.
It’s easy to get sucked into conversation. A vendor who you’ll never buy from might suck you into a 20 minute demo. You might sit next to someone at lunch who’s doing something very interesting – But completely unrelated to your business. Again, you might get sucked in for half an hour.
Before you know it, you’ll have spent half the day on things that won’t truly forward your career. Yes, it’s important to help people and yes, it’s important to make connections even with people outside your field. However, it’s also important to watch the time. If you don’t see how networking with this person is a win-win for the both of you, spend a little bit of time with them, but don’t get sucked into a long conversation.
Mistake #10: Business Card Shoving
This is one of the most common mistakes you’ll see. Instead of focusing on building real connections with other attendees, people will often focus on just shoving as many business cards as possible into other people’s hands.
This is not the way to do it. A business card’s purpose is to help two people connect by exchanging contact information. However, if a reason to connect isn’t established – In other words, if a relationship isn’t built or if a win-win possibility hasn’t been explored – Then the business card serves no purpose at all.
Focus on building real connections with people. It’s much better to just make 3 to 5 real connections than to give 50 people your business card.
These are 10 of the most common mistakes people make at business conferences. Again, business conferences can be an incredible opportunity to connect and boost your business. Just make sure that you don’t make these 10 mistakes.