Letter from the President - September 2018

As the summer winds down and hints of fall begin to appear, it seems the conference season is kicking into high gear. (Although these days, does it ever really slow down?) BILT North America has just wrapped up, BIMforum is just around the corner, and registration for Autodesk University Las Vegas is in full swing... to say nothing of the industry-specific events around the country and around the world.

It’s got me thinking about a crucial skill for having a successful conference experience: networking. And it’s not just for conferences: in my opinion, being able to introduce yourself to strangers is an important life skill. Think about it... how often do you meet new people? Or, how often could  you meet new people? All the time.

And yes, I know, it’s intimidating. But it matters, so I thought I’d share a few of the things I’ve learned after almost 15 years of attending conventions for business and for fun.

Nobody else knows anybody either. Okay, this is probably a slight exaggeration... but not much! I’m willing to bet that most of the conversations you see happening at receptions and during breaks are between new acquaintances. Don’t be afraid to join a group, or walk up to someone who’s standing alone.

You’ve got built-in conversation topics. I can hear you now... “But I don’t know what to SAY!” Well, you’re at the same conference, aren’t you? When you sit down in a session, ask your neighbor, “How are you enjoying the event so far?” On your way out of a session, try, “What did you think of that speaker?” Those are my two favorite icebreakers, because they’re open-ended and they draw on your shared experience of the conference or session.

Use your breaks. Sometimes at a busy event, you need some legitimate down time. (Fellow introverts, I salute you.) But if you’re not out of energy, the interval between sessions can be a networking gold mine. I mean, you can’t exactly chat with people during class time... unless you’ve decided to opt out of a session or two and spend that time in the lounge or exhibit hall-also a legitimate strategy!

Don’t wait around, follow up. If you have questions or compliments for a speaker whose session you attended, it’s tempting to hang around and introduce yourself right away. And if the line is short, go for it! But an email after the event will carry even more weight. The presenter has more time to give you a thoughtful answer, and it might lead to a more in-depth conversation than you’d be able to have during the session switchover (when the speakers just want to pack up their stuff and leave the room anyway).

Business cards still matter. I know, those little cardboard squares are almost archaic these days... almost. Even if you’re just going to take them home and plug the information into LinkedIn, they’re still useful in the moment. Exchanging cards is a nice reciprocal gesture with a new acquaintance, and they give you the opportunity to jot down a note or two about who goes with the card and what you might want to follow up on. You might not use them at any other time of year, but bring a handful (or two) to conferences.

This advice goes double if you’re job-hunting... maybe even triple. According to LinkedIn research, social networks and word of mouth are essentially tied with job boards as the top search methods people use to find new positions. I know they have an interest in saying that, but my experience backs it up. My firm’s hires definitely come both from responses to posted listings and from referrals. And the last two positions I’ve had myself came via my own professional network.

I hope these tips give you a bit more confidence the next time you have the opportunity to “work the room,” as they say. And you know what to do now if you see me at a conference or event: come say hello!

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