Summer is almost here which means if you’re a member of a professional association there is a good chance you will have an opportunity to attend your annual convention or conference in the near future. Even companies who cancelled their annual meetings last year due to the poor economy are back on track this year because…meetings matter.
Studies conducted by the meetings industry have shown that people attend meetings to expand their network of contacts and resources. For the past ten years, I have attended the National Speakers Association annual convention. Although the speakers on the main platform and in concurrent sessions are always good, most members will tell you the real benefit comes from the face-to-face networking that happens in the hallway, elevator and lobby bar. Sharing of best practices, shortening learning curves and hearing new ideas are just some of the outcomes that happen when you provide a place for people who share the same profession, employer or interests to network and share resources face-to-face.
Are you still debating whether or not to attend your annual meeting or convention because you’re not sure you can afford it this year? My response to that is; how can you afford not to? There has never been a more important time to attend face-to-face meetings than right now. Tacit knowledge, which social scientists refer to as the “know-how” about how something (or someone) really works is difficult to capture in writing. This is often the information you get from a colleague or coworker at a meeting who tells you the real “skinny” that immediately shortens your learning curve or saves you thousands of dollars. It’s something magical that seems to happen when humans connect face-to-face and often when you least expect it. Some of my best “networking nuggets” happen while waiting in line for the women’s bathroom, riding the elevator or striking up a conversation with someone I’m sitting next to at a meal or breakout session!
To help you make sure you’re capitalizing on your return on attendance at your next professional association or business meeting consider these networking strategies;
1) Review the conference program to discover all the presenters and experts who will be sharing information and consider contacting in advance the ones you would like to meet (or get to know better). Offer to help be a room monitor or pass out handouts as a way to assist the speaker and increase your access to them and the chance of becoming a part of their network.
2) Be clear about your intentions for attending the conference. What do you want to learn? What resources, information or people would you like to know more about? What would help you be more effective in your job? Then design a plan for what sessions you will attend and specifically the questions you have. Intentions are like satellites. Once you have a focused beam, it’s easy to reach your target.
3) Think in advance how you might be a resource for someone else attending that same meeting. What skills, talents or experiences (personal and professional) do you have that could help someone there? Keep those at the front of your mind and listen for opportunities to offer those resources when you’re interacting with others. There is no better way to improve your Networth (social capital) than by looking for ways to be a resource to others.
I can’t wait to attend my annual association convention in Orlando this July because I know I will come back with two or three ideas, strategies or resources that will take my business to the next level. I also know they will come to me when I least expect it, in the most unexpected places, from a colleague I just met or haven’t seen in a while. That’s the magic of meetings and why they will always matter.
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