I openly attribute much of my success in running an MSP from attending such Conferences. Attending these events accelerated my growth as a business owner. It allowed me to spend time meeting new people and learning from some of the most successful individuals and businesses in the industry. It helped me forge long-standing relationships and bring back tips and advice that it may have taken me years for me to learn on my own. In short, the investment of time and money I made by taking time out of the office to travel to conferences was invaluable.
With that said, I wouldn’t have realised nearly as much of that value if I hadn’t overcome my fear of meeting new people. I didn’t (and still to a great degree don’t) enjoy networking events of any sort. The thought of entering a room full of strangers will have me breaking out into a cold sweat. It’s still really easy for me to find a single familiar face at a Conference and fall into the trap of spending all my time having the same conversations with someone I already know. Or worse, be “that guy” stood in the corner of the room desperately pretending to be busy on his Smartphone so he can avoid talking to anyone.
Over the years though, I’ve picked up a few techniques to help me step outside my comfort zone, meet new people and feel comfortable in conversation. Here are my 4 ways to “Work The Room” at an IT Conference.
Look for an open conversation
When you’re looking for a conversation then look for an “open” group that you can join, not a “closed” one.
A closed group would be where two people are stood facing each other straight on, or a group of people have formed a inward facing circle and are talking intently. They have something important to discuss and are focused entirely on each other. Don’t be that person who hovers nearby, desperately looking for a gap in the conversation so you can introduce yourself. That gap in the conversation might be a long time coming!
An open conversation is where two or more people are chatting and standing in an open semi-circle – subconsciously inviting someone else to join them. The conversation is not intense and you’ll find that either there will be a lull in the conversation where you can easily introduce yourself to others, or just as likely, somebody else in the group will smile and introduce themself to you.
Make it all about them
It’s worth remembering that everyone’s favourite topic is themselves! Who doesn’t like to talk about themselves, right?
When meeting someone, try to resist the urge to talk about yourself and instead use the opportunity to learn about the other people, asking questions about them instead. “Small talk” is fine – where they travelled from to reach the Conference, have they attended the Conference before, etc. but consider asking them what they hope to get from attending the Conference, what they are looking forward to on the agenda, and what impact they hope the Conference will have on their business.
As well as learning more about them and their business, you may find you share a lot in common between you that you can learn from yourself.
During the course of the conversation, and indeed during the Conference as a whole, look for opportunities to introduce people to one another based on commonality.
For instance, if one person tells you they specialise in Voice-Over-IP (VoIP) and another tells you they are looking to get into providing VoIP solutions to their clients – connect them both up! If one person shares they are currently implementing a PSA tool, and another shares they are considering implementing a PSA tool – make the introduction!
By looking for opportunities to “Be The Connector” and introduce people to one another, you’ll be adding value to every conversation you have and every relationship you form. What’s more, it’s human nature to try to reciprocate. Don’t be surprised if those same people find you during the Conference and introduce you to people that they think you will find valuable to meet.
When the Conversation Ends
If and when the conversation runs to its inevitable conclusion and you are both left with that awkward silence and it seems like there is nothing more to say, you could of course excuse yourself and make a bee-line for the toilet. Or indeed you could answer a phantom mobile phone call from “the office”. Or you could avoid all that awkwardness and use this phrase instead.
“I’d imagine you know a few people here?”
If the answer from the other person comes back “Yes” then share with them that you don’t know many people and so you’d find it really valuable if they’d mind introducing you to some new people. In this way you’re giving the other person the opportunity to “Be The Connector” themselves!
If the answer comes back “No!” and they don’t know anyone – then nod and share that you’re in the same boat and suggest that perhaps you both go and meet someone together.
You can then use the technique I shared at the start of this post and find an individual or open group of people to introduce to your new contact!
Attending an IT Conference is a big commitment in terms of time and money. The rewards from attendance are that it can be of huge benefit to both your business and personal growth. You can meet new people and find valuable new ideas – and to do so you may have to step outside your comfort zone and face a room full of strangers.
You can avoid falling into the trap of chatting with the same group of people by looking for an “open group” and then being brave for 30 seconds and starting a conversation with someone new. Focus on that person during the conversation and find common ground and new ideas. Remember to look for opportunities to “Be the Connector” and realise that by doing so you’ll add value to the conversations you are having with people and making it easy to build new relationships.
Enjoy Conference season – and if you see me in the room, come and say hello!
No stock photography here! These snaps were taken from the CompTIA UK Channel Community meeting in Cardiff.