AAHAM has two main events each year, our ANI and Legislative Day. Our local chapters also have their own regularly scheduled meetings and conferences. Sometimes I hear that someone did not feel they made the most of their time and money they invested attending a conference; others may say it was the best thing they did for themselves and their company.
What is the difference?
To maximize a conference you need to have a plan. Regardless if you think you are the shyest person around, there is always someone shyer. You need to commit to introducing yourself to at least three new people every day. While it’s great (adn valuable) to connect with people you know, by meeting new people you have an opportunity to broaden your circle of contacts. Pretend you are the event host or hostess and go up to someone. I prefer going up to someone standing alone, ask them what chapter they belong to or if this is their first ANI, Legislative Day, etc. I can assure you they will be glad you approached them.
Focus on the connection not collecting business cards. What good is a stack of business cards if you haven’t learned about a person and engaged them in a face-to-face conversation? When you obtain someone’s card quickly make a note on the back of every card something to help you remember the conversation after the event. These details will refresh your memory when you are back at your desk after the conference. Try to learn where they went to school, a hobby or a tidbit about them in addition to their business focus.
Try to stay at the conference hotel even though it may be cheaper to stay at a budget hotel or with friends or relatives or even go home if the meeting is nearby. People are hanging out casually after a meeting. It’s a great opportunity to engage people in conversations at the hotel gym or pool or even in line waiting for an elevator or restaurant. There could be a potential business contact in the lobby bar after the event. Down times can be effective for networking and making contacts. Socializing is an important aspect of attending conferences and hiding in your room or staingwith family doesn’t net effective results.
You’ve made the investment of time and money to attend the event but the real work comes in follow up. Within three days of the event, you need to reconnect while the contact is still warm. You may not necessarily reap a new contract, job offer or client, but by keeping in touch with emails, telephone calls, and social media, you start forging a relationship. Start looking at the people you met on LinkedIn and follow them on Facebook. The next conference you’ll know many more people to say hello to!
Belonging to an association is an investment that is worthwhile and making the most of attending conferences and meetings is huge part of your membership.