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September 22, 2003 9:25 AM CDT

Make Yourself Known: A Guide to Convention Networking

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Conventions are one of the best ways to make yourself known within your profession or industry. Equally important, conventions are one of the best places to meet people who may help you become more successful. How? New contacts can help you obtain exciting new products ... acquire new customers ... learn about new innovations ... forge new partnerships.

So next time you attend your convention, don't be a passive observer. Instead, use a few of these twenty-five tips to start you on the road to new acquaintances and new adventures:

  1. Organize pre- and post-convention events, such as post-convention wrap-up seminars or pre-convention travelogues.
  2. Circulate position papers. These need not be elaborate. Jot a few pages of your thoughts on the current state of your industry, legislative matters, or other issues of pressing concern.
  3. Let colleagues know you'll be there. Make telephone calls or send e-mails to people you want to meet beforehand.
  4. Join a committee. This might be the convention marketing committee, the budget committee, or the program committee. Committee service is a great way to meet the movers and shakers in your industry, as well as the people they know.
  5. Volunteer. If committee work is not up your alley, offer to host a reception for speakers, introduce a speaker before a seminar audience, or moderate a panel discussion. Or propose a volunteer opportunity of your own.
  6. Look sharp. Don't underestimate the importance of dressing well in places where you'll be noticed.
  7. Wear your business identification. This might be a convention button or badge, giving others the opportunity to address you by name. Better yet, wear a button displaying your business name and logo.
  8. Publish an article for the convention newspaper. Describe the steps you took toward a major accomplishment. Share information about a new selling technique. Be sure to mention your telephone number and e-mail address.
  9. Organize a lunch or dinner. Invite peers you meet to join. If you're interested in hosting a roundtable lunch on a specific topic, place a public notice in the convention hall with response instructions.
  10. Set up your own reception. A small seminar room might be a perfect place for your own informal gathering. If you're trying to make your business better known, you might request that your reception be part of the formal convention program.
  11. Circulate your business cards. Give them to everyone you meet.
  12. Leave business cards and brochures everywhere. Leave a few cards at popular booths or gathering places. Ambitious folks even leave them in restrooms.
  13. Meet and greet the speakers. They may gather in a convention lounge, and the lounge may be open to convention-goers.
  14. Offer to speak. Remember this doesn't have to be an in-depth talk. It might be nothing more than participating in a panel discussion. This is a great way to build exposure.
  15. Use booths as meeting places. Don't assume that the only reason to stop at a booth is to examine products. It's a great way to meet your peers and talk about items of mutual interest. And if you notice a booth that attracts innovators, stay close.
  16. Sit strategically. If you arrive early at a seminar, sit squarely in the front of the room; some attendees might assume you're associated with the speaker, and will visit with you. You'll also be able to chat briefly with the speaker. Alternatively, sit near the door and greet participants as they come in. You'll be amazed how strongly people will be attracted to you when you assume this stance.
  17. Stalk the leaders. Here's another way to meet convention organizers or seminar leaders: Arrive early at events where they'll be speaking. Stand near key entrances or registration tables and be ready to introduce yourself.
  18. Use the bulletin boards. Want to gather convention participants for a special discussion? Tack a note on the board.
  19. Announce yourself. When you introduce yourself in person, or during a meeting, offer your name, your business name and, if appropriate, a key product line. Ditto when you ask a question.
  20. Distribute samples. Do you have a small product or distinctive item that will help people remember you or your business? Something easy to carry, yet tasteful and inexpensive? Give them away liberally.
  21. Listen to the competition. As you network, listen carefully for hints on what your competitors are saying about the industry, about their products, and about their strategies. Don't hesitate to join in the informal "chat" or "gossip" sessions; they'll help you become a better competitor.
  22. Meet the press. Will the convention host press conferences? If so, make it a point to attend. If you're involved in convention planning, offer to participate. An even bolder move: suggest to your local or regional press a story that might feature you or your business and tie it in to the convention you're planning to attend.
  23. Become technologically savvy. Your laptop computer and cell phone can put you in touch with your office if you're confronted with questions about your product, or if someone wants information you don't have with you.
  24. Offer your notes. If you're a good note-taker, offer to share your jottings with other convention participants. This is a great way to build your network.
  25. Organize your own events. Conventions are often filled with social outings -- golf, tours, and visits to historic sites. But there's no reason why you can't to take the lead in developing your own personal tour or visit to an out-of-the-way place that convention organizers might not have thought about. A few of your peers may want to join you.

Always remember that one of the hidden benefits of your convention is the opportunity to build new acquaintances. Before your convention, build a personal networking plan for yourself and resolve to carry it out. The result: the people you meet may remain active in your circle of partners long after the convention is over.


About the Author

Richard G. Ensman Jr. is a free-lance writer based in Rochester, N.Y.

 

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