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Excel at Your Next Industry Conference

Excel at Your Next Industry Conference

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This is How.

There is something about industry conferences and trade shows that seems to distract, if not destabilize, many people.

Perhaps it’s the communal vortex of like-purpose that overwhelms the system. After all, most of us are out presenting, pitching, selling, and talking about what it is we do to people who don’t. At conferences, trade shows, and the like, we are odd with many of our own kind — or at least those who get us — en masse, in one room, for days. Trippy.

Snapping out of that, hopefully, you realize that you are participating in an important opportunity. You are with many of your own kind — or at least those who get you.  Take advantage of it.

Most of these events offer some or all of the following:

  • Sales, partnership, vendor or other prospects.
  • Crash courses on trends and innovations.
  • A potential arsenal of tools to do your job better and more profitably.
  • A pilgrimage to follow and interact with an industry idol. (Man, woman, or company.)

If you’re in the right place, you should be able to categorize the attending individuals and companies accordingly and use these guidelines to maximize your time there.

Research and reach out ahead of the event. You will not only appear sharp and prepared, you vastly increase your chances of meeting who you want to meet since they’re expecting you. Like everything else in business, meeting times at conferences with key players are competitive. Lay the groundwork before.

Undertaking such preparation before a conference is the first thing I advise the sales proteges I train. Companies invest tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars a year because they realize the value of such face-to-face time.


CRITICAL: Preparing for the Conference Begins Before the Conference.

1) I instruct the sales teams I counsel how to research the lists of vendors and attendees to determine the key people likely to be of the most important to them — and why. Any respectable conference will have those attending on the event’s website and in its promotional materials. Learn them.

This due diligence includes becoming familiar with individual backgrounds, news connected to them, their positions in the hierarchy of their companies, and reviewing their social media accounts.  LinkedIn and Twitter will be very revealing.

2) Once these key people have been identified, thoughtfully and professionally reach out to them through email or LinkedIn.[It should go without saying that your LinkedIn profile needs to be accurate, polished, and perfect.] Introduce yourself, and give some indication of why you want to meet. Don’t be overly presumptuous that what you have to offer is what they necessarily need. Find a more comfortable common ground.

3) Those you’ve reached out to will reply or they won’t. For those who do, use the event’s schedule and venues as your guide. Take advantage of intermissions and breaks, coffee in the morning or time after a presentation. If it makes sense, attend the same presentations or events. It will provide you with a shared connection. You are there to sell yourself in some capacity, not stalk. Know the difference.

Those who don’t reply, don’t automatically assume disinterest. We are all busy, miss emails, blow off LinkedIn for a while. Consider them active on your list. If you have a legitimate value proposition for them, remain positive and focused. When you do meet, think about how you reference your pre-conference outreach attempt. Don’t place them in the position where they have to make an excuse for not replying. Blow past it. No awkwardness. They will appreciate that more and respond more favorably than accommodating you out of guilt.

4) Have a very solid “elevator pitch” ready. [If you are not familiar with the elevator pitch, catch up here so we can move on.]

Although conferences tend to connote the sense of longer durations during which business can be conducted, that is not always an accurate read. The overall time of the conference may be longer, but the competition for anyone’s attention can be fierce. So much to do, see, make happen. It’s not just you. The targets of your meetings are there for their own, similar, reasons.

So when you finally speak, make every word of your pitch count. Run it past colleagues or mentors and memorize it. Rehearse out loud, often. Time is money, and you only get one shot at making a good first impression. Communicate it naturally. What tone of pitch is most likely to positively influence you?

Along with the elevator pitch, I direct those I counsel to develop a way to introduce themselves in one sentence. Again, time can be short and opportunities fleeting. Make it accurate, sincere, relevant, and seek a way to include something particularly advantageous to them about you.

Preparing, training for sales business opportunities requires a degree of mental programming to insure you communicate what makes you tick and why anyone should care. Think of knowing these key parts as sort of a software installation. It’s within you and it’s programmed to perform perfectly when you call upon it. You will have other more extemporaneous challenges, so the less mental fuel you use on that which you can memorize and know well beforehand, the better.

5) Research and plan around the events and after-parties before you get there. Know when and where these events are, what to wear, who might be there. If you’re more in the know about what’s happening, you reap the benefit of being able to invite those important to you to these events. For those with whom you have established dialogue before the event, don’t hesitate to extend to them specific invitations to specific events. Things may come up, including more lucrative opportunities for either or both of you, but cross those bridges when you come to them.

6) Connect that day. I advise my sales team clients to reach out through email and LinkedIn while they are there. Allocate some time in the evening or early morning to update your CRM database — and use it. Keep track. This assures no one slips through the cracks and gives you a shot at fast-tracking an important relationship.

7) In all else, humanize. Make eye contact and say hello to people who gesture acknowledgment or exchange smiles with you. Smile and be approachable yourself. Be ready to shake hands and launch your introduction and, when the time is right, your elevator pitch. Then, listen.

8) Be a card-carrying…professional. Yes, actual paper business cards may have largely been replaced by technology, but conferences are different. Attendees aren’t likely to plug contact information into their devices on the fly, so give them something to remember you by. If you have the chance, write something relevant on the back of the card while you are in front of them so they will have a better chance of remembering you.

9) Wear your name tag. Too cool or important? Get over it. You don’t make the rules during the conference ritual, so follow those that work.  Convey pride in who you are and who you work for. Be open and approachable. 

10) Be yourself. It is the role you are most comfortable playing, it rings truest and it’s the easiest one to maintain as you develop and cultivate these relationships for the long term.

This article originally appeared here. Sales and Sales Training Specialist Frank Bastone can be reached at 718 662 8581, or schedule time for a chat here.

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