I recently returned from the Urban Land Institute Fall meeting in Denver Colorado. This conference attracts international land development leaders for three days to discuss topics that are trending in our industry. Over 5,000 people chose to invest their time and money to attend the event this year.
In reflection, while I believe that the conference was beneficial, it is clear that one could always improve on how they think about a conference. You cannot afford to simply attend a conference; you must become a conference commander! Here are six tips that will help you to make the best of your next conference.
Tip #1: The 7 P’s
“Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.” The seven P’s can be used anywhere from military to conference preparation. Why are you attending? Hopefully it is more than a few free poorly mixed drinks. Have a plan before leaving for the conference.
Tip #2: Know your Targets, Gather Information, and Strike Early
Most conference has a list of attendees. Use these lists to select a few of the most important people that you wish to meet. Next, gather a little information on these people. The most important thing to people is, well, themselves. A little knowledge about these people will go a long way in connecting with them. Finally, strike early. Don’t wait to a chance encounter with these people during the conference. A quick Google search will gather most peoples email address. Go ahead and attempt to connect with this group. The purpose of this email is not to make a best friend for life, but simply a chance to schedule a quick coffee during a break the following week.
Tip #3: “Where’s the Beef?” of a Conference
Hint: It’s not in a session of meeting a famous speaker. Don’t focus your efforts on attending as many lectures as possible in effort to gain as much information as possible. At best, you will spend three days (and thousands of dollars) and only have a few pages of notes to show for it. I have gathered that while these lectures can be somewhat insightful, most of the content can be found in recent article in your trade publications. Instead, use these titles as more of guidance to the interest of people that you will meet.
For example, a “Sustainable Infill Development” session will attract people interested in just that. Use this to your advantage. On average, you have 10 minutes before and after to meet with industry leaders that are interested in a given topic. Additionally, you have a small window to connect with the 2-4 people around you during lecture.
Also, don’t focus on the speaker. He may be a small infill developer from Seattle Washington when he walks in the room but after a successful lecture, he will be a rock star for the next hour. Don’t waste your time waiting in a line to meet the speaker only to get a quick handshake, a “thank you”, and a possible business card. Instead, use this opportunity to connect with people that can be most beneficial to your professional development.
Tip #4: Master the “Deep Bump”
Unless there is ice or fire, no one actually cares about the weather (unless you are attending a meteorologist conference I guess). Instead, use these short “bump” encounters to make meaningful conversation. The point of this chat is not to make a new best friend. Instead it is a short honest conversation with an ultimate goal of reconnecting later. You have a lifetime to build relationships with people at the conference, but only a few short days to meet them.
One last thing on the “bump.” Take name and notes. Try to get a business card from people. Remember a few key points about the conversation. Then, when finished, jot a few of these notes on the back of their card. It will help you remember them much better. In addition, as stated earlier, the most import thing to people is themselves. Most people would be incredibly impressed if during a future meeting with someone you happened to make a comment such as “So, it looks like your weight loss plan is still working great.” Or “So, did little Johnny’s soccer team with their game?”
Tip #5 Follow Up or Fail
This is the critical final step. All the previous steps mean very little if you do not follow up. Do not be the person that meets a ton of new people only to leave with an impressive stack of business cards that will mean absolutely nothing to you in three months. Follow up now! Don’t wait. Send an email the same day or during a session the following day. By doing this you will most likely make a lasting impression on those that you meet and could be well on your way to building an important professional relationship.
There are the tips that you can use to make your next conference you best one yet. One last thing I would like to touch on that I am personally most guilty of. Most conferences, such as this years ULI conference, you will attend with a group. While it is important for you to continue to build your relationship with team members or fellow students, the conference is simply not for that. Even if you tend to be an introverted person, try to stretch you wings during these few days. The ultimate goal is to leave the conference with more than heartburn and soar feet. Good Luck!
What do you think? Feel free to add your tips!