A conference is a huge opportunity to build relationships with extraordinary people -- people who might have a significant impact on your professional or personal success. To make sure you maximize the return on your (or 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. Here are my first five tips on how to do it:
1. Remember the 7 P's
Proper prior planning prevents piss-poor performance. Military strategists know 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, 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 friends who are going if they know other attendees -- do 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 can keep track of 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 go deeper to learn about their human side. Then find your currency for them: our 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. No excuses about not being able to find their coordinates -- this is the Information Age. Begin your conversations now, or arrange a time 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. You'll 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 basically give hour-long infomercials for their brands, you can present a 30-second commercial for yours just by asking a thoughtful question during the Q&A. Stand tall, say your name and what you do, and then ask a great question. Enjoy your temporary celebrity status after the session. People will be eager to approach you once you've been introduced in a public forum.
Get more tips in Keith Ferrazzi's Never Eat Alone and by subscribing to Keith's free tip of the week.