Everyone knows that being a speaker at a high profile seminar is the professional equivalent of getting a huge endorsement from some icon in your industry — being asked to speak means you must be knowledgeable, interesting — you must be a “player.” So, you have instant credibility as you wander the halls of the event hotel — you’re invited to the speakers’ reception, you get a special badge and ribbon, you’re elite.
But what if you’re an attendee, swimming in a sea of people, trying to make a name for yourself at a conference? How do you connect with others and establish yourself amongst all your peers? You are attending the conference to hopefully learn, but more importantly, to lay the foundation for future business deals and partnerships. The alliances and relationships that you begin with other attendees at seminars will likely come into play in the future. The time will likely come when you will need an ally or information — knowing who to contact at that moment will be critical. When that big problem or choice opportunity lands on your desk, you’ll be glad to know who to reach out to for answers, advice, or partnership. Conferences are where these professional relationships are built and cultivated.
Most legal conferences and trade shows are set up with the attendee in mind: the organizers want their seminar to be “user friendly” and they want you, the attendee, to be able to make the most of your time there and then in turn, want to return again and again. Keep that in mind as you are planning — the organizers should be your resource, your ally.
Here are some specific tips that will help you navigate your way through your next seminar:
1. If They Build It, You Should Come
At Mass Torts Made Perfect, we’ve established a forum and reception specifically for 1st time attendees. First Timers are invited to a workshop where we discuss the different aspects of the program and answer their questions, and then have an informal cocktail party where they can begin the practice of networking. But out of 200 or so first-timers, only around 100 attend this event organized especially for them. 50% of them are missing out on this exclusive introduction and opportunity to really gain a foothold at the seminar, and the chance to meet some of the speakers who attend. It’s important that if the seminar organizers invite you to a special event that you attend — they are doing this for you! Your time at the seminar is important — don’t waste it wandering around alone when you could be at a great networking event.
2. Location, Location, Location
Stand next to the bar at the cocktail party, or next to the coffee urn at breakfast. Just doing that will probably solve all of your networking challenges! It may seem obvious, but in the meeting room, sit at a table with other attendees — don’t just hang in the seats in the back. Definitely attend any lunch or meal event and sit at a table with others — most of the attendees are in the same boat you’re in — they don’t know anyone either. At MTMP, we work with our vendors to host several meals, and it’s surprising how many people skip the luncheons or reception to go back to their room to read email or go shopping, or go sit by the pool. This is a working conference and every event is meant to help the attendee maximize his or her time there.
3. Meet the Vendors — They Are Smarter Than You!
The exhibit hall at MTMP is full of vendors who are there to tell you about the latest greatest trends in their industry. Don’t be afraid of them — they won’t bite. (And they often have cool giveaways and raffles for things like flat screen T.V.s and iPads!). These vendors are knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and genuinely interested in finding those attendees who could benefit from their product or service. If you visit their booths, you’ll find that they have a lot of information to share, and they tend to know a lot of the players and are extremely well-connected. Many of them have been doing this for 15, 20 years. They are not to be avoided — they are a fantastic resource — use them!
4. Embrace Your Inner Extrovert
Knowing what your objectives are when you attend a seminar is important — you need to figure out what you want to accomplish while you’re there. If you want to get involved in the new Essure project, approach the Essure speakers after their talk. If you are looking to meet specific lawyers from firms you’re interested in working with, enlist the help of the seminar staff to find those attendees. You will need to reach out repeatedly, and that can be difficult even for people who consider themselves social. Just remember that it’s a numbers game — the more times you reach out, the more chances you’ll have to make a good connection.