Have you ever attended a large corporate type convention? There may be several thousand attendees to twenty-five thousand or more. How do you, one individual, make networking at such a large event work for you?
Think small! The first advice I received regarding attending a convention was to go with as many business cards as you can carry and give out as many as you could. For a lot of years I witnessed this approach and frankly it was a useless exercise. Instead of networking on purpose, it was networking by accident meaning that it was totally a hit and mostly miss activity. People would walk up to me, hand me a business card and say something really intelligent like, “Hey, when you have someone moving to San Diego, think of me!” They would hand me their card and move onto the next sucker (I meant to say convention goer; sorry).
First there was no interaction. There was no form of introduction. More importantly there was no reason for me to want to know this person or to keep the business card. Having flown to my first big convention I learned upon leaving that I had a problem bringing home all the stuff I had collected from convention booths, classes, and marketing pieces/business cards handed out by most if not all of the convention attendees. Therefore as I sat in my hotel room I had to decide, what do I keep, what do I throw away. With hundreds of business cards to consider, I first went through the cards and threw away any that did not have a photograph. Like so many people I have a hard time remembering names and faces and it is almost impossible to remember anyone by name alone. TIP NUMBER 1: Include on your business card and promotional pieces a photograph that gives the recipient a first impression that you are someone who looks like someone they would be willing to work with. SURPRISE – not all photographs accomplish this most important task. Some glamour shots you have to look twice to make certain it is the same person.
Even after going through all the cards, I still asked why I wanted to keep all these cards. Over the years they would follow me home, be stuck in a drawer, eventually would end up with rubber bands wrapped around them and ultimately find their way into the trash can. Any Aha here? TIP NUMBER 2: Why would I want to keep this specific card more importantly YOUR CARD? What value does it have for me? If I know, for example, that a lot of people moving to my area come from a specific market area, like Houston, TX, the cards from Houston could lead to future referral business as compared to cards from areas that I may have never heard of. Therefore, one great way to make your card “keepable” would be to also make it “memorable.” How do you do this? Jeffrey Gitomer has at least two ways; one was to have a business card for his cat and would give his cat’s business card to probable referral opportunities. His second method was to hand out business coins instead of business cards. The coins contained his likeness and contact info. Would you keep such a card? I found two methods that worked well for me. First was a baseball or sports type card. It was the same size as a baseball card, in full color on one side and the back was written in the same format as a baseball card. Memorable? There are people who still have that card even though I am no longer with the same company some 20 years later. Another card I found extremely valuable and still use is the card with a photograph of a bottle of furniture polish PRIDE and dishwasher detergent JOY on the back of the card. I would explain that whenever your probable referral opportunity was given the card you would explain that when their friends and co-workers showed pictures of their kids, grandkids, dogs, cats, etc, you show them your “Pride & Joy.” I know for a fact that people put that card in their wallets and do just as I suggested and kept those cards for years. After all, isn’t that the objective of giving out your card? I have also used miniature business cards. They were no bigger than the size of two postage stamps side-by-side. They were all in one color, blue on white. Contact info was on one side albeit hard to read. The other side said, “The size of this card was necessitated to save money as a result of lack of business and referrals from you.” Another card was full size with contact info on one side and on the other, big letters GENERIC BUSINESS CARD. In smaller print, “This generic business card was necessitated as a result of a lack of business or referrals from you.” It causes people to laugh, when they laugh it is much easer to build rapport. More importantly unique cards are oftentimes retained if for no reason than to show other people or to duplicate for their own use. Point made!
TIP NUMBER 3: Later in my career I began keeping ONLY those cards from people who made an effort to at least seem interested in me and what I was doing and where I was from. They took time, real time, to spend with me and instead of telling me all about what they did and who they were, asked me questions about what I did and who I was. You can reinvent the wheel but you would better be served by trusting me on this one – to build rapport with anyone, get them talking about them instead of you talking about you. I would then take their business card and write on the reverse side where we met (at what activity) and briefly a note on what we discussed, just a word or two.
TIP NUMBER 4: Immediately upon returning home, I would write each person who I met that I kept a business card for and write them a hand-written thank you note. I would enclose my card and tell them what a pleasure it was meeting them and look forward to being able to help them grow THEIR business in the future. These folks may or may not have kept the card I gave them at the convention but I increase the odds that they will keep the card I mail them. It may also at least subconsciously suggest to them that this is something that they should have done as well. If that happens, it reinforces how seriously you take your business and who would not want to work with or refer business to someone who takes their business seriously?
TIP NUMBER 5: If your personal promotion materials are not significantly unique or memorable, they most likely will not be retained. Therefore it would be my suggestion NOT to spend money on materials used to promote yourself to hundreds or thousands of people as it most likely will be trashed. Special Ed Haraway, an Exit Realty agent in Maryland suggested, “You want people to remember who you are and what you do from the mailbox to the trashcan!” That may be the best advice I had ever received. In this case from the moment you hand them your materials - to into the shopping bag they carry - and then to the nearest trash can.
TIP NUMBER 6: Instead of shaking hands with hundreds of convention attendees, spend quality time meeting a few people each day. Set a goal of having breakfast, lunch and dinner with a different person or small group of people YOU DON’T KNOW, each day. You can increase the odds of creating a life-long business and personal relationship by targeting people from those areas that you know have a likely chance of referring business to your area or your unique field such as vacation homes or waterfront homes, etc. I guarantee you that if you continually sit with folks you know, especially those from the same office, they are not going to help you grow your business by passing referrals to you!
TIP NUMBER 7: When you attend an activity, make absolutely certain that you sit with people you don’t know and then introduce yourself to them and get to know them by asking them questions about who they are, what they do, what are they doing that has been successful, what one tip would they give someone about how to be successful, etc. If you sat next to two new people (for you-know-who that would mean a stranger on either side of you) and you attended 4 to 6 classes or seminars a day, that would equate to meeting 8 to 12 quality contacts each day not including other opportunities to meet people. In this case you will have the opportunity to spend at least one hour with your new probable referral opportunities.
TIP NUMBER 8: Study the calendar of events to make certain you attend classes/seminars that will enhance your career first and meet people second.
TIP NUMBER 9: Tips 1-8 will be useless if you do not attend. I have for years been amazed that so few people I know in the business attend their company’s annual convention. Attending is how you become known within the company. Attending is how you can build your referral opportunities. Attending usually means that you should learn at least one additional technique or procedure that would generate at least one additional sale that would ultimately pay for your attendance. How simple can this be? Therefore to those folks who have made the decision not to attend I have to ask, “What are you thinking?” Probably, I can’t afford it. You cannot afford NOT to go. I don’t have the time; I’m too busy. Yea right! No one believes that. In fact if you want to increase your business just plan to leave town and your business immediately picks up; you know I’m right on that point.
If you are attending an event as a vendor whether it is a convention booth, a trade show such as Home Show or any gathering of people who could eventually may do business with you or who may give you referrals, you want to stand out. You want people to “linger” at your booth. You want people to take something away from their meeting with you that causes them to remember you and what you do. And, you want to capture contact information from as many visitors to your booth as possible.
TIP NUMBER 1: Have an attractive booth. If you are going to participate in such events, spend the money to create an attractive presentation. There is nothing less professional than paying for a booth or table and having only a table with your brochures displayed on it.
TIP NUMBER 2: It has been my experience that a great many vendors at trade shows set up a backdrop and then put a table between those folks working the booth and anyone who stops by. Eliminate barriers between you and potential business. You want people to “enter” your area and feel welcome and comfortable doing so.
TIP NUMBER 3: To get people to enter your “area” you have to realize that most will not enter unless you give them a “reason." Using real estate as a subject matter, most visitors to a home show, for example, do not have a specific real estate need at that very moment so why would they want to stop and talk to you? Most vendors at trade shows collect business cards or have fill-in-the-blank give-away slips and then give away something of perceived value. While this is certainly a good thing to do, the result is that you may get a lot of names and addresses but you get to interact with only one person – the winner. What about all the other folks who left a card or filled out the slips? Why not spend your marketing dollars on a lot of give-away items instead of one moderately expensive item? You then have reason to contact a lot of people instead of just one. Or, do both! This works exceptionally well if the organizers of the event announce winners whenever one is drawn. You can wait until the end of the event and have your name and/or company name announced only once or you can have it announced every fifteen minutes or so. The choice is yours.
TIP NUMBER 4: Give visitors a reason to spend time with you. This is a bit more difficult especially if there is no reason for them to stop and talk with you. The best such reason I have personally used is a computer, monitor, printer and “what-happened-on-your-birthday” software. I would setup an easel with an enlarged printout of What Happened On Your Birthday displayed. As people would tend to just walk by the booth, I would ask them, “Would you like to know how much eggs sold for on your day you were born or a special anniversary date?” Not only would they stop, they would tell others about the booth and the printout I would give them and those folks would seek the booth out. Since it takes a couple of minutes per person to enter the required information into the computer and printout the result, you have “time” to “talk” about what you want to talk about – your business and how it could help them. Ask great questions about the visitor, not statements about what you do. This works! The problem is that you will have more people stop than you can work – what a great problem to have – so get help working your booth. The software is really cheap, less than $10.00 at most computer stores that sell software. TIP 4B, bring a “slow” printer or setup your printer for the absolute results and that takes longer to print – gives you more time to spend with the visitors to your booth. Check out: http://www.symphonicsoftware.com/symsoft/ as one source for the software.
TIP NUMBER 5: What one thing do all convention attendees seem to have? Not what you think – they all have sore feet. At one show several agents got together and reserved two booths, side-by-side. Instead of tables of brochures and cards, we purchased foot massagers and set up about 8 chairs. At the end of the show we gave away the massagers. People actually lined up to sit and relax. And while they did…..do I have to draw a picture?
TIP NUMBER 6: Just think outside the box. Do you want to do what everyone else is doing or do you want to be memorable? Don’t be afraid to be different – different will get you noticed. An example of this occurred when I would use PayDay candy bars. The real estate company I work for has the highest commissions in the industry. When an agent from another company would stop by or walk by I would offer them a full size PayDay candy bar. But before they could take it, I would acknowledge the name of the company they work for, put the candy bar in my pocket and then give them a “bite-size” PayDay. It caused everyone to laugh but more importantly it opened the door to some great conversations.
TIP NUMBER 7: I remember and still have a photo of me on the cover of a trade type magazine. A real estate agent had a cover set up and would take a photo of visitors, get their name and address and if possible give them the finished product before they left or it would be mailed. In today’s digital world you only need to take a digital photograph and then superimpose it onto the cover, save and email or print it out and give it to them. I have since seen such photos on the desks and walls of many business people.
In summary, to make conventions work for you:
- Attend – that’s #1
- Spend time with a smaller number of people rather than just giving out as many cards as you can
- Engage other attendees; ask them questions, take notes, follow-up
- Build relationships
- Be different – be memorable
- Instead of selling, find out how you can help the people you meet
- Did I say follow-up?
- Learn to be a resource
- Learn to be a connector by connecting people with what they need or who they need to talk to
- Did I say follow-up?