6 Creative Ways to Connect at Conferences
Hey Friends. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is not HOV – it’s Keisha Mabry and I absolutely love networking. But my networking is not your typical networking. My networking is transitional not transactional, it’s about the person not the profession, it’s about the who not the do. Who people are – their hopes, dreams, passions and hobbies – not what they do from 9 to 5 just to stay alive. It’s friendworking, and I’ve been using friendworking for 10 years to meet everyone and everybody from my bae to Issa Rae.
Today, I’m going to share my top six ways to meet and greet peeps at conferences. Why conferences? Because it’s conference season and no matter how you cut or slice the piece of cake, pizza or pie everyone has had to do a little conference networking from time to time. So let’s get ready, let’s get set and let’s conference connect.
1. Volunteer. Not only does it take a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to pull off a conference. A vast village of organizers, speakers, teachers, mentors, advocates, sponsors and volunteers. And for being a part of this vast village one receives benefits and the benefits or a volunteer are legit! Very legit. Volunteers get free entry and access to very important peeps. Very important VIP peeps. Me personally, I’ve volunteered at everything from the NAACP to the Urban League, and by volunteering I’ve always been placed up close and personal with the VIP peeps I want to meet.
2. Connect with People Ahead of Time. My goal for every conference is to buy or get the guest list ahead of time. Like way ahead of time. Like three to four weeks if I can. Then I pre-plan by calling and emailing all of the attendees I want to connect with in advance. Then I wait. I wait for the calls and emails to trickle in. Some call and email me back instantly while others take their sweet precious time. Then there are folks that totally decline my invitation to meet. But for every no there’s always a yes so call, call, call, email, email, email, and connect, connect, connect.
3. Meet People in Lines. There are dozens of lines at conferences: breakfast lines, lunch lines, dinner lines and brunch lines. Then there’s the break lines, snack lines, getting in the door to workshop lines, shuttle lines and happy hour bar hop lines. There are dozens of lines and while in line I make good use of my time. I make good use of my time by saying hello to everyone standing or sitting next to me. Everyone and everybody.
Hello is a simple word with five letters but infinite power. However, we pass people on a daily basis without saying anything. Nothing. Not one thing. We pass people on a daily basis without saying a simple hello. On planes. On trains. In lines. And while we dine. We say nothing but we should. We should say something. We should say hello because a simple hello can lead to a million things, thangs and everything in between.
4. Arrive Early and Sit in the V. Not sure if you know about the V. But when I was in college, many professors would tell me that they teach and speak to the V of the classroom. Well my friends -- conference speakers do the same. Imagine a room. Now imagine the professor’s or speaker’s point of view. Picture a V with the professor or speaker standing at the open end of the V and her/his vantage point ending in the back of the room where the two ends meet. That’s the V and that’s the area of the room most professors and speakers draw their attention to and speak to.
So -- I always sit in the V and by sitting in the V it makes it easier for me to meet and greet with peeps -- especially the speakers during their speech. It makes it easier because the speaker makes eye contact with the people in the V multiple times during her/his speech. They make eye contact and the eye contact makes it easier for you to connect, and easier for you to volunteer to speak so SIT IN THE V.
5. Ask Questions and Volunteer to Speak. I always ask questions and you should too. And when I say always I mean ALWAYS! At workshops. At conferences. At speaker series and professional development sessions. At every event, meeting and lesson. If there’s a Q&A—I have a question. By asking questions, not only do you make yourself memorable to the speaker, you also make yourself memorable to other attendees at the conference. But here’s the key...when you ask your question make sure you do the two following things:
Stand up and speak – don’t ask your question sitting down. Stand up with confidence and ask your question loud and proud.
Introduce yourself before asking your question. You now have the floor so take advantage and let everyone know who you are, what you do and how they can get ahold of you. I usually say. “Hey friends. My name is Keisha Mabry and I have a platform called Hey Friend that helps people build genuine, authentic relationships. You can learn more about me at keishamabry.com and you can find my book Hey Friend on Amazon.” And just like that I’ve made hundreds of connects.
6. Talk Selfies -- Lots and Lots of Selfies. When I was in graduate school and undergraduate school, all of my mentors would say the same thing. “Don’t forget your business cards,” they would say. “Business cards save the day because business cards will help you stay connected to all of the peeps that pass your way.” But business cards didn’t always work that way.
The older I got and the more conferences I attended – the less and less I became dependent on business cards. Most would end up in a pile on my desk, in a pile in my car, in a pile in my purse or washed and dried away with dirt from the pants I work a few weeks before. No friends. Business cards were no longer working for me so instead I turned to selfies.
Selfies allowed me to take pictures of the peeps I would meet and tag them instantly. It was a friendworker’s dream come true. I could use social media as a reminder of the peeps I would meet, and not just a reminder for me but a reminder for the peeps. It also put a face with a name which isn’t always the case with business cards. Some people have their pictures on their cards but a vast majority of people do not. And last but certainly not least, selfies aided in follow-up emailing. People don’t always remember your name but they usually remember your face, and by simply uploading the selfie with me and the peeps I would meet, I noticed that the response rate of my follow-up emailing increased drastically. So use selfies friends! Use selfies!!!
Happy connecting and thanks for reading!!!