Next Time You’re at an Industry Event, Apply These 5 Simple Rules

18620404_791499414346130_4550225685602645281_nIn the course of your career, you’ll have attended dozens if not hundreds of industry events where – if you’re like most human attendees – you’ve exchanged business cards as if by rote, refilled your coffee cup endless times and listened to experts tell you something new as you take notes, tweet and daydream about your next vacation.

Attending events is a skillset best honed by applying five simple rules.

As communicators, you know the importance of face-to-face encounters, having a meaningful conversation IRL (in real life). However, at so many conferences I attend I notice attendees in downward-face on their phones ignoring the masses and missing out on golden opportunities. Whether you are attending an industry event to learn, to network or to market your brand, here are the 5 habits of highly effective event-goers:

  1. They create an agenda beforehand. Before attending any event, be it a 2-hour luncheon or a 4-day conference, know what you are getting into so you control your destiny. Which sessions will you attend that will tell you something new and not just reinforce what you already know? Who are the people you need to meet and who do you want to meet? Write it down first, then add it to your e-calendar. By writing it down first you will retain the information better, even if you never refer back to that hand-written page again. Create an agenda with stretch goals.
  2. They smile. Smiling is not only contagious, it produces endorphins that will make you happier and more productive. People connect with those who smile and at an event with a lot of strangers there is nothing more welcoming than a friendly face. Conferences especially can be very tiring; if you put a smile on your face it’s scientifically proven to give you a boost of energy akin to eating 2,000 chocolate bars.  That is a lot of saved calories.
  3. They are all in. You and I live in a highly fragmented world in which it’s hard to escape the deluge of emails, the desire to tweet and post and the demands of co-workers back at the office. If you succumb to the Distraction Gods then you might as well go back to the office or work from home. Instead, be there. Be all in. Listen to content that is being offered to you (and not to your competitors, perhaps). Engage with the people you meet. Ask questions and seek answers. Twitter, Facebook, Email, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tinder (?) – they’ll all be there when the conference is over (most likely).
  4. They follow up. Those business cards you collect – what do you do with them? For a while they were piling up on my desk until one day they came tumbling down. I rifled through the pile and did not recognize most of the names on the cards. I had failed in my follow-up. Now, first thing I do when I get back to the office after an event is I email the people whose business card I kept and reference something we talked about at the event (which I noted on the back of the business card soon after the meeting). Usually, we’ll Link In and connect on Twitter. Sometimes we’ll meet in person again and every now and we’ll partner on an idea. Also, as part of the rule of following up, after taking all those great notes at the event push yourself to follow up by acting on the ideas. Implement a few of the takeaways. If you neither follow up with the people you met or the ideas you learned, you should reconsider attending that next event and settle for being OK.
  5. They share knowledge. You were lucky enough to attend an event, most likely on your employer’s dime. Share what you’ve learned with the people back at the office. They’ll appreciate you and return the favor at another point. Plus, you’ll be a stronger team.

What other rules do you to commit to when attending an event? Please share (see Rule #5!).

— Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz