Hello, and welcome back to my career. I’m Nicole Meyer, and this is a podcast where I discuss my thoughts and perspectives on the world of work today. Each month, we cover topics surrounding career development, professional advancement, the future of employment, recruiting, and retaining the best talent, and understanding how your behavior can propel you forward or drag you down. With conference season right around the corner, many of us in banking are preparing for a busy couple of weeks. I’m going to Toronto next week for CyBOS, then to Istanbul for fun and work, and then Barcelona for Euro Finance. After all of that, I’m going to AFP in San Diego in October where I’m speaking on a panel about social media and how it can impact your brand. It’s a lot of travel, a lot of people, and a lot of networking, and networking is the perfect opportunity to showcase who you are and how valuable you are. It’s an ideal time to make your network work for you. My goal is to help you maximize the opportunities conference season offers. This is going to be your all in guide. So I have 5 steps in my plan. 1, have a plan. 2, set goals. 3, know how to introduce yourself, 4, how to get in and out of a conversation, and 5 is brand awareness. Taking steps to raise your profile. So let’s start with having a plan first and foremost before you step foot on a plane, train or automobile, you need a plan. I mean, a real detailed, measurable plan. Measurable meaning you can quantify and qualify your success. What do you want from this conference? Why are you going? Here are some potential goals you want to reconnect with colleagues and friends. Or you’re looking for a new job, maybe looking to hire career development. You’re looking for promotion, exposure, and visibility. Are you looking for new clients or partnerships or competitive information? Start here with your conference preparation. Have a plan. Let me tell you why I’m going. My priority is business development and education. I’m looking for new clients, so I need to meet new people. I also want to stay up to date with the industry. Here’s my challenge with what I want to accomplish. I’m focused on business development and education, but lots of candidates want my time. They want new jobs. They want to talk about who’s hiring, and they want to be sure that I have them on my radar. And I know so many of these people because I’ve been in the industry for so long. These are my friends, but I’m not there for them. I have my own goals. I have limited time. So how do I balance what other people want versus what I need? Well, when I’m walking through the conference or getting electronic requests to meet, I tell people very politely that I am at the conference for a reason and it is to generate new clients. Without that, I have no role to discuss with people.
I ask everyone who approaches me to follow-up with me after the conference. I say no. It’s hard, but I need to. Sure. I get sidetracked by people who wanna chat with me. So let me tell you how I get out of a conversation that isn’t meeting my needs. How do I say no to a request for a meeting while still being kind and respectful? I’m going to address that in a minute, but first, we have to talk about setting goals. For me, I set specific goals about people I want to meet, connections I need to make, and I do that with a list of companies and people that I’m targeting. So let’s go back to the pre conference. Before you step foot anywhere, look at the conference website. Decide what you’re going to take away from the conference. What are your goals? You can’t prepare or organize your time unless you know what you want, what your priorities are. On the website, you may see sessions for education. If that’s your priority, put those sessions in your calendar now. Block the time. Have a look at who’s speaking or attending. Decide who you want to meet. Then create a spreadsheet or use the conference app or the tool of your choice to write down your goals. It’s sessions, it’s meeting people, it’s education. It is really important to document what you want out of the conference and to keep track of the progress. The apps and websites provided by conferences these days are getting better and better and so much more useful. Start there. Take advantage of them. So you’ve all heard about smart goals, right? They are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time bound. Stick to that when you have a plan and you set your goals. Let’s talk about the goal of meeting people. Meeting people can be easy. It doesn’t have to be stressful. You can even meet people in a coffee line or lunch line. If you’re new to networking or nervous about it, start there. Start somewhere easy where people are congregating. Start talking to somebody in a coffee or food line. Start with what looks good or offer a compliment if you see that they are speakers or industry specialists. You might be able to see that on a badge. Find something to talk about. If it’s a break in between sessions, get yourself something to drink or eat and stand next to someone, and ask that person how they are enjoying the conference. Better yet, ask them what they’ve learned today. Ask them what brought them to the conference. My first rule in networking is to make it about the other person. Make them feel appreciated. You will achieve your networking goals if you offer first. Offer something before you ask for something. And leadership requires networking. It is the strongest tool you have to strengthen your brand. Doing a good job is just not enough anymore. You need brand awareness. You need people to know who you are. You can do that through networking. So, again, do your homework. Who’s going to be there? Who do you wanna meet and why? And I encourage you and challenge you each. To identify 5 people. 5 people who work in industries you’re interested in or for companies you’re interested in, make a goal to meet at least five people at your conference and even more. Start reaching out to people before the conference begins. Schedule fills up quickly if you really want time with someone, get on the calendar as soon as possible. Use LinkedIn or the conference app to connect with someone. Let people know you’ll be there and you’ve always wanted to meet them or you’re curious about their expertise or you want their advice.
By the way, people love to give advice. Send a note, email, text, ask others in your network to connect you to people you don’t know, but start sending out those invitations. Conference season is right around the corner. Why don’t you post about attending? Tell people you’re looking forward to networking. You’ll be surprised at how many people will approach you.
You can be casual or not when you approach people when you want to meet someone at a conference. You can suggest meeting for a coffee or a drink, meeting at a conference wide networking session, or before or after a presentation. Start small. Don’t ask for too much and think about why the other person would want to meet with you. What can you offer them? Once you have a meeting, how do you conduct yourself knowing full well that you want something from a conversation? Again, make it about the other person. Put yourself in their shoes and think about what they might want. Ask interesting questions and listen for the answer. Offer to help in some way. Offer a recommendation. Offer an introduction.
Be genuine and be warm. Here’s another tip. Ask that person who they are there to meet. If you know that person offers an introduction, now you’re on your way to a meaningful relationship. That is networking. Next, I want to talk about introductions. How do you introduce yourself? So you’ve got a meeting. You’re going to need to introduce yourself. You’re going to want to be memorable. Yes. This is what they call the elevator speech. So Say something unique about yourself. Talk about your goals at the conference in general, then ask questions, interesting, and relevant questions. Don’t just ask how they like the conference to be more original. Ask about the most controversial session. Ask which sessions had the strongest speakers. Ask how someone’s going to use that information at home. Plan ahead with your questions. It’s easier than thinking on your feet. So have a good idea of how you’re going to introduce yourself to someone in your meeting. You want to have a comprehensive introduction tailored to both potential clients, peers, anyone you want to meet. So let me talk again about elevator speeches. Whether you’re pitching for something or you want to meet someone to further your own career, the recipe for a good introduction is the same. Think about the most essential aspects of who you are, what you do, what you offer, make it personal, not just about work, mention what you do professionally, and then mention something about something else. Maybe it’s about the city that you’re actually in at the moment. Maybe it’s where you feel they have the best cup of coffee at the conference. Something else. Here’s an example. Here’s how I might introduce myself. Hi. I’m Nicole Meyer, I used to have booth duty until I left banking and went out on my own. I now run a recruitment firm in this industry, and I’m at the conference looking for new clients. What brought you here? Do you have booth duty or maybe something else? And, hey, does HSBC still have the best coffee at this conference? Look, that’s it. You introduce yourself. You tell people why you’re there and offer something else. Speak clearly with confidence. Make eye contact and keep your body language open. Try not to cross your arms, slouch, or leaner, turn away, and smile. So let’s talk about connecting with people. You know at a conference. That’s the easy part. Go ahead. Reach out to them. Make time for them. Book time. But don’t fill your conference time with friends unless that’s the only goal you have. In that case, go for it, but don’t cheat yourself out of an opportunity to meet new people to broaden your network to learn something new from somebody else. I would challenge all of you to get out of your comfort zone, to push the boundaries of what you’re comfortable with, reach out to a stranger, introduce yourself to someone who looks interesting, someone who looks like they might be a great addition to your network, attend a session on a topic that you don’t understand. And then post about it. Let people know you are there. These days, most conferences have networking cocktails or events where they promote networking. So look for what’s being offered at your own conference. Heck, they’re doing the heavy lift in. They’re doing the hard stuff. They are inviting you to network. Mention to people that you want to meet them and how about you meet there. It’s an easy low risk approach to meeting people. While you’re engaged with someone, look for common ground, find something that the 2 of you can connect on that will make you more memorable. I really do encourage you before you get to a conference to think of 5 questions that you will ask people at a conference. And something that’s a bit more original than why are you here or where are you from?
Ask them if they know anything about the city that you’re in and where to get dinner or Ask people how they got into this line of work. Ask them which of the networking sessions they’ve been to and were they useful? What tools did they learn? What did they learn that they didn’t know already? Ask people about a keynote speaker. Ask people if they saw something of relevance that you saw. Look, don’t try to be too long winded. Don’t rush, but also be careful not to drone on or monopolize the conversation. If you find yourself getting nervous or rambling, take a breath, center yourself, slow down, and get back on track. You don’t have enough time to recite your entire work experience, and nobody wants to hear that. Look, if you’re also meeting a possible client, Then you need more of an elevator pitch approach. The basics stay the same, but the content will shift to suit your audience.
So let’s spend a minute talking about entering and exiting conversations. So you’re at the conference.
It’s a big room. Lots of people are talking, and you don’t know anyone. You walk in and you are by yourself. Just stop for a minute. Look around for a few seconds. Don’t rush to join any single group, be strategic, and look for a friendly face. If you find a friendly face, go over and say hello. I have a perfect example of that. I was in London. I had just formed my search firm. This was 2009. I walked into a room of 2 100 bankers in the UK. I didn’t know anyone, and I was looking to network. Sure. I was nervous. It made me anxious. I looked around for probably 30 seconds and someone turned around and smiled at me. Oh, I went there. I went right to that person. I approached him. I thanked him for his smile. I introduced myself. That person was a vice chairman at a very large bank in London and he ended up being a senior advisor who helped me launch my firm. And it’s because I looked for a friendly face. You can do this. It is daunting, but it is absolutely possible. So look, that’s one way of doing it. You can also approach people individually whether they are alone or in groups, ask the group which session they liked the most or ask them what brought them there, engage with them, Say something like I saw your group. You looked engaging and fun. Can I join you? I do not think people will say no. I really don’t. I will say that if you see 2 people deeply engaged in conversation, don’t approach them. Don’t interrupt. Trust your judgment. Equally, if you are huddled in safety with a buddy. You may look unapproachable and you don’t want to do that. So let’s say you wanna leave
a conversation. You can do so with kindness and grace. Thank everyone for their time and let them know that you came here to network and that you’d like to meet some other people. You won’t defend anyone. Everyone else probably came for the same reason. You can also tell people that you need to step away, but that you’d love to continue the conversation at another time. Get their cards or scan their QR code. Tell people it’s been great talking and you see someone you want to approach or meet and you need to excuse yourself. Or tell people that it’s been a long day and you need to rest your feet, you’re just going to step away. People will admire how easily you excited these conversations. I promise you this is a common fear at conferences not being able to get away. Why don’t you be the leader that shows people how to do it? So one more thing about this toolkit, not only how to exit and enter a conversation, but you wanna make sure that you are prepared with some kind of a business card. We all have them or have them. This year, why don’t you try a QR code instead? There are countless apps where you can quickly and easily create a virtual business card. Share that with people you meet. And many conferences have now started to print QR codes on badges, so that perhaps it’s done for you. But in any case, there’s no excuse not to have your contact information at the ready. Nobody wants to wait and write it down. They want it instantly. Make it electronic. It’ll be so much easier for you. And always make sure you have an opportunity to follow-up, whether you’re pitching something or pitching to someone or simply making a new connection, follow-up and follow through our essential sharing your contact information is the first step. Now let’s talk about brand awareness.
I encourage you to post when you’re at a conference, post about sessions you’ve attended, Things you’ve learned, people you’ve met with their permission, and of course, show that you are active in participating. That is going to attract others and make it easier to network and start conversations. Finally,I want to remind everyone of the value in taking notes. Take notes on what you learn. Ask someone if you can take notes while they’re talking.
Make notes of memorable conversations in what you discussed. For me, as soon as I am done with the conversation, I create a voice note or I send myself a message voice to text. I recite what we talked about, what I learned, and what I’m going to do to follow-up. I promise you will refer to all of that when it’s follow-up time. And chatting and meeting without follow-up, what a waste of time. We’re going to discuss best practices for follow-up in my next episode. Trust me, note taking will be an advantage. You will thank yourself later. All in all, remember that the value of conferences increases with your preparation and engagement. Make the most of your time and enjoy yourself. I hope to see all of you out there on the conference circuit. Remember, I challenge you to meet 5 new people, approach five people and engage with them. Email me or post something and tag me to tell me how you’re doing. Thank you for joining me for this month’s episode of my careers. Let me know how this conference season goes, and I look forward to speaking with you soon.