How will you prepare for the upcoming fall conference season? Even if you love the spontaneity of chatting up a new contact in the lunch line or comparing notes with the person next to you at the panel discussion, planning ahead can pay off in far more high-quality opportunities.
Here’s the secret: at every conference, there’s always the official agenda and the “invisible agenda,” the one you won’t find on the website. It encompasses all the informal handshakes and conversations between sessions, as well as pre-arranged meetings and even a few “spontaneous” get-togethers. You could go through an entire conference and never notice this invisible agenda unfolding all around you. Or you could be the one who sets it.
Most people get ready for conferences by planning out which sessions they’d like to attend. Proactive brokers, on the other hand, plan out which people they’d like to meet. They know that the “invisible” agenda is just as important as the official agenda, and they make the most of both. Here’s how you can, too:
1. Let people know you’ll be there.
Make the conference a conversation starter: whether it’s on social media or your next phone call, mention you’ll be there and see if your contacts (or their contacts) will be, too. At these events, bumping into a someone you know can be a nice surprise—but it’s even better if you plan on it. If you’re good about spreading the word, you should already know who in your network will be within the same zip code, and who you’ll be catching up with at the event.
2. Uncover new leads.
After you’ve checked in with your network, it’s time to do a little detective work: who else is going to be at the conference, and who would you love to meet?
You can quickly uncover interesting leads by seeing who’s talking about the event on Twitter (check out the conference’s hashtag) or by tuning in to the chatter on the conference’s Facebook page. After you register, many conferences provide a tool that lets you create a profile and connect with other attendees. Some, like CRE.Converge and CoreNet Global Summit, even make their attendee lists visible before you register.
Once you have a sense of who’ll be there, you don’t have to wait for the conference to accidentally bump into them. Be proactive now: reach out, introduce yourself, and let them know you’d like to meet. Now is the time to start warming up those connections.
3. Set your goals and pre-set your meetings.
Time to check out the “official” conference agenda. Which sessions do you plan to attend, and how much time can you allocate for meetings between sessions and networking events?
Set a goal for how many people you’d like to connect with at the event, and how many meetings you can realistically schedule ahead of time. Remember to leave a little room for spontaneous connections, and for those times when you really hit it off with a contact and want to keep the conversation going.
Once you know how many pre-set meeting “slots” you have available, reach out to the people you want to connect with and be clear about the benefit they’d get out of meeting you at the event. Once you get a “yes,” remember to send a calendar reminder a day or two ahead of time, and get each person’s cell phone number so you can easily connect on-site.
4. Do the background work.
Now that you know who you’re meeting with (and who you’re hoping to bump into), it’s time to do a little background prep on each individual. That means Googling them, checking out their LinkedIn profiles, knowing what they look like, and even coming up with a few key conversation starters for each of them. For example, which common interests do you share? Which common benefits could you gain from working together? And how can you use that information to spark a great conversation?
You may not meet with or even bump into some of these people during the event, but if you know exactly who you’re looking for, what they look like, and what you’d say to them, you put yourself in a far better position when an opportunity walks your way. Bottom line: the more important the potential prospect is to you, the less you want to leave to chance.
5. Know exactly what you plan to give.
You already know what you want out of these meetings, but do you know what you want to give? Start there. Most brokers begin with what they want (eventually, a deal!). But not enough of them take a moment to ask, “What do I plan to give?”
Think of each pre-planned meeting and spur-of-the-moment meet-up as an opportunity to give something valuable to the other person, whether it's a market insight, a valuable new connection, or the chance to save time and money. How can you make their life better, easier, or more fun? That’s the first and last thing you should be thinking about. (Coincidentally, if you make that your priority, you’ll also be the first and last person they’ll want to be talking to! Win-win.)
6. Give people a reason to come and talk to you!
Refer back to the official agenda again. Which sessions are you planning to attend? Go through each one on your list and jot down a) what you hope to learn from it and b) a couple questions you may have for the speaker. Even though those questions may well be answered during the presentation, you’re likely to think of more as you take notes. The important thing is to adopt a curious mindset.
Here’s why. When that speaker asks the audience if they have questions, you’re going to stand up, introduce yourself, and ask one. Do this in every session if you can. Not only will you get more value out of each presentation, you’ll also give other people a good reason to approach you afterwards. Your question acts as a beacon letting other people know you’re curious about the same things as they are and gives them a reason to come up to you and say hi. It makes you a little less anonymous and a little more open to new, unexpected connections.
7. Follow up in a meaningful way—and then keep following up.
Immediately after the conference, follow up with each person with a thoughtful note that touches on what you talked about and what you enjoyed about meeting them.
While you’re writing that note, you should already be thinking about what your second follow-up will be. For example, you may plan to send them a useful article or introduce them to a valuable connection a few days later. Don’t worry about doing everything during the initial follow-up: keep the first note simple, and set aside something special for the second one.
The key is to keep the conversation going so that those valuable connections don’t slip away. If you’ve added your contacts to Apto, you should have no problem remembering to follow up on a regular basis. Just remember: there’s really no limit to how often you can follow up—just some common-sense guidelines for doing so respectfully.