circle of networkingAs I make the rounds of speaking to my partners about their 2013 plans the topic of “What conferences and industry events are you looking at attending?” will definitely be a key point of conversation. Once I get their list, I’ll follow up with, “Have you attended this event in the past?” And then, “Can you talk to me about why this conference is on your radar? What makes it important for your networking and business development?” And the kicker: “Can you point to any new business opportunities or leads that have come out of your participation in this conference?” I want to know and understand why the attorney is taking time out of their week to attend the conference, losing all those billable hours. If the answer to the final question is no, I want to know why. I need to understand why the firm should continue to underwrite their attendance if nothing is coming of it. Sometimes a conference has lost it’s mojo. Perhaps it has become too vendor heavy? Perhaps the attendees have shifted and the decision makers are no longer there? If so, it’s time to let it go and move on. However, if it’s still a great event, we need to understand why they are not converting their attendance into new relationships, which can then be converting into new business. Thom Singer had a great post this week: Networking Mistakes Being Made At Almost Every Conference. His seven mistakes are:

  1. Spending too much time with coworkers and other friends.
  2. Seeking time with celebrity speakers, industry gurus and other VIPs.
  3. Talking too much.
  4. Paying attention to electronics.
  5. Skipping keynotes and other sessions.
  6. Expecting a short conversation to make someone part of a network.
  7. Arriving late, leaving early, or skipping the networking time altogether.

I’ll add a couple of my own:

  1. Avoiding the exhibitors in the exhibit hall. Sure, they are there to sell a product. But they can be great conduits to further introductions. Think “referral network.”
  2. Not participating in the social media surrounding a conference. Go to the conference website. How many have Twitter accounts? Follow. What’s the hashtag? Learn it. Use it. Tweet it.  Start communicating with and following others going to the conference. Same thing with Facebook and LinkedIn. You’ll be amazed at the conference within the conference. I wrote about my experience in this post, Me, Twitter, LMA and Laura Gutierrez.
  3. Identify connections to make before leaving your office. Who is going to the conference besides you? Many conferences will pre-publish an attendee list. If not, check last year’s conference. Who do you know who regularly attends? Call and make those lunch and dinner plans weeks in advance. If they’re too busy, plan to meet for coffee, or attend one of the sessions together.
  4. Not following up AFTER the conference. Collect every business card you can. Grab the conference attendee list (usually in one of the handouts). Start connecting with everyone who has a LinkedIn account, including the speakers and keynotes. I have yet to have someone NOT connect after an event. Just make sure to send a personalized message.
  5. Continuing to develop those new relationships. It’s just not enough to connect with someone on LinkedIn. Now you need to establish that relationship. You do so by keeping your LinkedIn account alive. Post your recent article and achievements to your profile (this blog post will automatically be added to my profile, with a customized message, when I hit publish). I just had a former colleague contact me to have lunch because she saw an update of mine on her LinkedIn updates.
  6. Is it time to upgrade your investment? Some conferences are fine to attend and network. But is this conference a great opportunity where the firm should be a sponsor? What about hosting a client/prospect dinner?
  7. Double down on your involvement. If the organization or conference is a great fit for you and your practice/business, volunteer to get involved. The 2014 conference committee will be hard at work immediately after the 2013 conference ends. See how you can get more involved. If a trade group, volunteer for a committee, and work your way up the leadership ladder. If a stand-alone conference, start to develop relationships with the conference organizers so you can get on next year’s dais, or 2015 if need be.

With any type of networking opportunity, you will never get anything out of it if you don’t invest your time and effort. I am fond of saying, “The answer is always no if you don’t ask.” When it comes to networking, the business opportunities are always nothing if you don’t make the investment. If you have great conference attendance tips, please feel free to add them to the comments section below.