15 Tips: Conference Commando [Part 1]

["15 Tips from Keith Ferrazzi: Conference Commando" is a two-part series from business guru Keith Ferrazzi.]

A conference is a huge opportunity to build relationships with extraordinary people, people who might have significant impact on your professional or personal success. To make sure that you maximize the return on your (and your organization’s) investment of time and money to attend, you can’t afford to be a conference commoner. You have to be a Conference Commando. 

#1 Remember the 7 P’s.
Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance. Military strategists know that most battles are won before the first shot is fired. The side that determines where, when, and how an engagement is fought usually gains an insurmountable advantage. So get focused. Take time weeks before the conference to think through and write down why you are attending. What do you want to achieve? Who do you want to meet? The more clearly you articulate what you want and need from the conference, the more likely you can plan and execute your mission.

#2 Know your targets.
Get the list of conference attendees somehow— call the conference organizers, ask your friends who are going if they know of other attendees, or whatever it takes. Then go through the list and note those you want to meet. Keep that list with you at all times during the conference (including social events) so you know whom you’ve met and whom you still need to meet.

#3 Gather intelligence.
If you want to get to know someone, the first thing you should do is figure out how you can help them. Google them. Of course, their business interests will be most obvious, but do some deeper research to learn about their human sides. Then find your currency for them—your experience, knowledge, contacts, or resources that can make them more successful. And get this: the best part of doing your homework is that it doesn't have to be a secret. When you meet your target contact, say, "I always make a special effort to inquire about the people I'd like to meet." Inevitably, people are flattered. Wouldn't you be?

#4 Strike early.
Don’t wait for the conference to start your networking. A week or two beforehand, pick up the phone and call at least the top three people you want to be sure to meet. (And no whiny excuses about not being able to find their coordinates. This is the information age!) Begin your conversations now and/or arrange a time for when you arrive at the conference. Can’t get past their gatekeepers? Surprise them with a fax or a voice message when they arrive at the conference and save them from spending the night alone in their rooms—most likely in the very hotel where you’re staying! Say, “I’ll be downstairs at 8 with a few people for drinks and dinner. Would you like to join us?”

#5 Never attend a conference.
Well, never just attend a conference. You should be sure to speak, too, even if your name isn’t on the program. While keynote speakers are basically given hour-long infomercials for their brands, you can acquire a 30 second commercial for yours just by asking a thoughtful question during Q&A. Stand tall, say your name and what you do, and then ask a great question. Then enjoy your temporary celebrity status after the session. People will be eager to approach you once you’ve been introduced in a public forum.

#6 Slight the speakers.
Don't waste time standing in line to meet a speaker after his or her song and dance. There will be so many other brilliant people at the conference; go meet them! If you must meet the speakers, please approach them before their talks, before they have captivated the crowd’s attention and adoration. 

#7 Get a wingman.
Just as people lose weight more effectively if they have a workout partner, your start more of the relationships you want if you team up. You and your buddy can provide each other motivation, guidance, and assistance if you’ll share with each other your real reasons for attending the conference, whether it’s to look for a new job, to fill your sales pipeline, or maybe even to seek a romantic relationship. Wouldn’t it be great to show up to the conference with somebody who’s actually on your side, who’s got your back, who’s working with you?

Look for part two of "15 Tips from Keith Ferrazzi" next week. Purchase Ferrazzi's book, Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time at Amazon.com.

For information on how to book Keith Ferrazzi, visit www.premierespeakers.com/keith_ferrazzi.

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