Once upon a time at a large national conference a young, inexperienced but eager professional got dressed up, put on her “foo” (see Appendix A,) and marched up to a seasoned power house of a professional to introduce herself. With stars in her eyes she shook hands with this very kind individual and then proceeded to talk about the most important topic she could muster – the weather. (Can you hear the “womp womp” playing in the background?) An experience she was certain would be a game-changer ended up putt-putting to an anticlimactic fizzle.
Of course that 20-something professional was
someone else me. Fortunately for those curious to learn – I spent quite a bit of my 20s learning the run-head-first-into-a-wall way so that (perhaps) you won’t have to. As we gear up for our National Sales Kickoff next week, I decided to share six key lessons I’ve learned about attending professional events. If you’re looking for some quick pointers, read on:
1. Set goals for your time in Chicago. Seem over-ambitious? It’s not. Goal-setting is an easy way to set yourself up for success and it can take as little as 10 minutes. Use your bus or plane ride to jot down your goals for the week. Better yet – Keep a copy tucked into your bathroom mirror at the Sheraton. What do you want to accomplish during the week? What experiences would you be disappointed to leave Chicago without? One of my goals is to capitalize on as many interactions as I can to spread information about what my team will be up to in 2016. I also have a short list of people I know I want to connect with, which brings me to the next pointer:
2. Remember that awkward introduction I referenced at the beginning of this post? Avoid that by doing some homework. Is there a person you know you’d like to network with at NSK? (Have you met Kentaro Kawamori? If you’d like to drink the equivalent of a professional Red Bull, you should! How about Quincy Johnson, Kim Epperly, or Scott Powers? Our Dallas team is one of the best and they’d be happy to talk with you about it. Or what about Stephen Gow and Katie Hill? They’re up-and-coming young professionals rocking it out on our inside sales team.) I could list 100 more people here! We have some of the best professionals I’ve had the pleasure of meeting on our team at SoftwareONE. Go out and meet them.
If you know there’s someone specific you’re excited to meet, hop on LinkedIn and breeze over their information. Find something about them that stands out to you and ask them about it. I promise that they’ll be grateful (and likely flattered) that you took the time to learn about their journey. Keep the conversation memorable by making it brief and poignant. If you’re hoping to continue the conversation, ask if it would be okay to put time on their calendar to re-connect.
And finally, know your worth. Go into these conversations knowing what you have to offer. Sometimes, especially as a young professional, it can be tough to think of yourself as a potential resource for someone who’s further along in their career than you are; But you’d be surprised! Maybe you have inside sales insight that a field sales person is keen on learning about. Or maybe you have a library of awesome business books that you’d be happy to lend out. Either way, I make it a point to always end my networking conversations by asking – “What can I do to be helpful to you and your team?” You’ll likely get a “nothing at the moment” in response but our SWO culture has cultivated an amazing, humble team of leaders who will be happy that you offered.
3. You’ve likely heard the acronym CLM (Career Limiting Move.) I promised you can learn from my experiences – While I thankfully haven’t made a CLM involving alcohol, I’ve certainly made my most
hilarious humiliating decisions under the influence (cue the reel from the time I took the microphone from an old boyfriend at his sister’s wedding and gave a terrible toast with the highlight being a failed joke.) Point being: If you know your limits, stay within them. If you don’t, NSK isn’t the time to test those.
4. A simple, yet very effective way to show that you’re invested in making the most out of NSK is to put away your phone. As a general rule of thumb: When someone’s presenting, put your phone in a pocket or purse where it won’t be a distraction. I’m committing to doing this at NSK – Will you join me?
5. Take thank you cards with you. You can find great packs of cards for $5-$10 at Target or WalMart. If you’re in the Waukesha office, you can always find a few extras in my top right desk drawer – Help yourself to them. When a great conversation with a colleague sparks a new idea, provides you with sage advice, or is generally inspirational – As soon as you get back to your hotel room, write out a nice note and make sure it’s passed along to that person before you leave NSK. This is one of the most under-utilized yet classy ways to convey your respect and gratitude to a fellow professional. (And no, an email doesn’t have the same impact.) While we’re riding the gratitude wave, check out my last tip which may be the most important:
6. Remember that we stand on the shoulders of giants – We need to acknowledge those shoulders. What do I mean by that? Take some time to think about how you got to NSK. It is a privilege to be in (in my opinion) the best city in the country for a week at no expense to us. What an opportunity! Take some time to say thank you to the people who were pivotal to your experience. The team that comes to the forefront of my mind is our marketing team. They have put in countless hours planning this event (and you can rest assured they will be running around furiously behind the scenes throughout the week so that we can enjoy a seamless experience.) I’m sure they enjoy Starbucks but I’m also sure that a simple thank you will go just as far with this incredible group of people.
So what are your goals? Who will you be networking with? Who do you want to make sure to thank? How are you setting yourself up for success? I’d love to hear your strategies and ideas!
Let’s talk next week in Chicago.
“Foo” is the awkward introvert’s version of the Gallup StrengthsFinder strength “Woo.” Can be found alongside things like spirit fingers and gigantic smiles.