Yesterday I explained why attending industry conferences and events is important. Although I’m gearing these tips towards those wanting to get into sports, particularly students, they apply to virtually any career.
Getting the most out of attending a conference or event is about more than just showing up, although that’s obviously the first step. Once you’ve registered for the conference, what can you do to prepare?
Get business cards if you don’t already have them. You can get them pretty cheaply online. If you’re a student, find out if your school will allow you to use their seal or logo on the cards. When I was a law student at University of Florida the school did allow such use and the local Kinko’s even had the seal on file and designed the card for me. I’ve scanned my old card as an example below. (I no longer live at that address, so don’t sign me up for any mailing lists or stop by to visit.)
If you’re not a student but instead perhaps a sports blogger, you can create a card like this one I used last year at MLB Winter Meetings:
Business cards are an inexpensive way to look professional and perhaps be remembered. I still have three cards from students I met at MLB Winter Meetings last year. I can’t tell you the name of any other student I met. One of them followed up (which I’ll give tips for in a later post), and I still have him on my radar. Maybe one day one of us will be able to do something for the other in a professional capacity.
Ok, you’ve ordered cards. What next? Look at the conference agenda and find out who will be speaking. Circle any panelists you’ve met previously. Highlight any panelists you’d like to meet.
Next week I’m attending IMG/SBJ’s Intercollegiate Athletics Forum. I printed the agenda and noted that I’ve met three people who are speaking. There are another two I’d really like to meet. Of course, I’d love to get time with every panelist, but that’s likely not an obtainable goal, so I chose the two who I’m most likely to want to connect with in the future as I work on stories.
I emailed all three panelists I’ve met previously about two weeks before the conference. If it was someone I only met once and have had little contact with since, I reminded them in the email how we met previously. I let each of them know I would be attending the conference and looked forward to seeing them again.
You can stop there. Letting them know you’ll be there puts you on their radar. Maybe now they’ll look for you in the crowd or during lunch or happy hour.
You can also go one step further. Is there one you’d like to spend more time with? For me, there was one I’ve met once before and had several phone conversations with for various pieces I’ve written. This person is involved in a situation that is still evolving. Because of this, I’d like some one-on-one time with this person. So, I invited this person to dinner.
Many times invitations like this won’t work out. I know I’m usually booked any time I travel, but sometimes they have a window of availability. You won’t know unless you ask.
Next, I emailed the two panelists I’d really like to meet. As I said, I’d love to meet all the panelists, but these are two who might have information valuable to stories I’m interested in covering in the future. For you, it might be someone you’d really like to work with.
In my emails to these people, who I’ve never had any interaction with, I introduced myself and told a little about my background. I noted I would be at the conference and would love to meet them. I asked if they’d be attending the happy hour scheduled at the end of the first day.
Now I’m on these people’s radar. If I approach them after their panel or at happy hour, they’ll have some background already on who I am. They’ll be expecting to run into me. Maybe they’ll even suggest we designate a time or place to meet up.
I think it’s important to both foster relationships you already have with people by reaching out to the panelists you’ve met previously and also growing your network by attempting to connect with panelists you’ve never met. Try and strike a balance by setting aside time for both types of people.
If you’re traveling out of town for the conference, think about whether there’s anyone else you’d like to meet who lives in that city. I’ve set up meetings with three people while I’m in NYC for the IMG/SBJ conference next week who are not attending the conference but simply work in NYC. I’d suggest giving people at least a couple of weeks notice, if possible. Email them and let them know who you are (if you haven’t met them), that you’ll be in town and why you’d like to meet them. Ask if they have time to grab coffee. Be prepared to be ignored or politely declined, but remember it only takes one yes to change your career.
If you interact with people in the industry who you think might be attending the event, tweet at them or drop them a short email. Ask if they’ll be there – let them know you’ll be attending. I’ve had a least a dozen students tweet at me to tell me they’ll be at the MLB Winter Meetings. I’m more likely to remember them now if they come up and say hi in the hotel lobby one night. In addition, now when they tweet me in the future I’ll remember I met them in person. It may seem like a small connection, but it’s a connection. I handed an entire website (BusinessofCollegeSports.com) I spent countless hours building and making successful to someone I met on Twitter (@RulingSports). It’s the connection that matters, not necessarily the method.
There are other things you can do to prepare such as reading the journal article you know a certain panelist is going to discuss, but these are the steps I take before every conference to ensure I take advantage of every opportunity to expand my network.