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It's my favorite time of year! Time to get ready for the American Marketing Association's (AMA) Leadership Summit.
Picture this: hundreds of brilliant marketing leaders from all backgrounds – creative, analytical, project managers, etc... – together for three days brainstorming strategies and putting them into action. This doesn't even begin to describe the energy that infiltrates our minds, but for the purpose of this post, it will do.
Now, picture this: hundreds of new business cards, forgotten names, notes on napkins, and an overwhelming amount of information that leaves you drained and physically sore. (It might be my shoes. Note to self: bring flats!)
How is it that two polar opposite reactions happen at the same time? I could write about that, but instead I will tell you something more valuable: how to prepare ahead of time for successful networking in order to alleviate the stresses of conferences.
1. Create a checklist ... or three.
Depending on how Type A you are, one checklist might be sufficient, or you may be like me and need a few. Here are some examples of checklists:
What to Pack
- What are you going to wear each day?
- Prepare for the worst! Extra shoes? Tide to-go? Do you have a free evening to sport some jeans?
- Eye glasses ... it's awful when you are sitting in the back of the room and can't read the giant presentation
- Obviously you will need your phone charger
- Business cards. Stock. Up. On. These!
- Pens, because someone will accidentally take yours
- Scratch paper/notebook
2. Define your purpose for networking.
You are going to a conference to learn materials and learn from other people. However, are you going as a representative of the company you work for? Are you simply representing yourself? Do you have multiple roles at this conference?
I enjoy the AMA Leadership Summit because it gives all attendees a chance to show off the many hats we wear. I will attend the conference this year first and foremost as the 2017-2018 President of AMA Omaha. However, I also attend as the marketing coordinator of a law firm and as an entrepreneur – founder of Sarah Morris Social.
My two main goals are (1) to absorb as much information as I can to help our local AMA chapter succeed and (2) to offer advice regarding areas AMA Omaha excels in so other chapters can grow.
As a representative of the law firm and Sarah Morris Social, my goals are simple – to reflect the organizations I work for in a purposeful and professional manner. This doesn't mean my objective is to sell the firm or Sarah Morris Social. It means that I have a wealth of experience in various areas that might benefit other leaders. It also means that if asked, I should be prepared to accurately explain what each organization does and what my roles entail.
3. Know your elevator speech.
Piggy backing off of my previous point, I know I will get asked multiple times about what I do and what the company I work for does. Know your stuff. It's not being "salesy" when someone asks you, but it is embarrassing when you can't articulate the answer. Be confident, be knowledgeable and be memorable.
(Shout out to a former boss who instilled this into my mind. I will never forget the frequent anxiety/fear of pop quizzes over my elevator speech. I'm not complaining though! It made me a better professional and I always have my elevator speech prepared.)
4. Prepare your social media.
We're marketers. We're social! What do you expect? We spend one quarter of the conference tweeting, hashtagging and following other chapter leaders.
Avoid the frustrations of searching for accounts while you are in-the-moment. Allow your social media usage to flow seamlessly by looking up key attendees, speakers or companies ahead of time and writing down hashtags that will be in use. Better yet, type them into your notes on your device so all you have to do is copy and paste. #WorkSmarter #NotHarder
Another useful idea to help others connect with you is to create a custom social media header. See the example below of my Twitter header I will use leading up to and during the conference.
This will help users identify that your account is in fact the one they are looking for and make it easy to connect.
5. Connect on LinkedIn before you go!
Search for and connect to other attendees before you go to the conference. Then, while you are there, make it a point to meet them face-to-face. What an easy ice breaker! It also gives you the opportunity to foster those newly made relationships.
If you are already connected to conference attendees, post a status inviting your contacts to share their social media handles so you can once again connect ahead of time. For example:
If you're going to the AMA Leadership Summit this year comment with your Twitter and/or Instagram handle so I can connect with you beforehand! Looking forward to seeing everyone again! (Second note to self: simma down with the exclamation points.)
These five tips aren't going to make or break your experience, but they certainly won't hurt! The more you can do ahead of time to avoid stress, do it. The more you can do ahead of time to immerse yourself in the experience, do it. The more you can do to set yourself up for success, DO IT!