Monday, May 30, 2011

Changing the Way I Network

At the prompting of my manager, I attended an accounting conference last week. I was not excited to be going. I had attended this conference a couple of years ago and hadn’t been impressed. In my opinion, the majority of the presenters had been more interested in selling their products than giving a worthwhile presentation.

What was different this year?
The conference organizers had received feedback that the speaker lineup was weak and had made changes. This year there were fewer speakers who spoke more in depth on their topic. Instead of: Here is my service any questions. Next presentation.

It felt good to commiserate with others:
Recently someone stumbled upon my blog via the following search:

How to create passion for accounting
To be honest if you don’t have a passion for debits and credits that goes back to high school, a new found passion for accounting probably isn’t going to happen. If you did, and currently feel as though you are just going through the motions, an opportunity to commiserate with others may be what you need to re-energize. The conference opened with the host asking, “How many of you have spent the last year projecting sales for the next 20 years for your bank?” Everyone’s hand shot up. “If these projections are wrong whose fault will it be? Yours.” I knew I was in the right place.

I attended the after-hours social event:
Typically I skip these. Similar to the introverts who commented on this Ask a Manager post, after spending eight hours of the day “on” I like to spend the evenings in my room recharging. I met several people though out the day who strongly suggested I attend and I realized it would look bad for me and my company if I didn’t go. The social event ended up being quite enjoyable and well worth my time. I made contacts I would not have made if I had stayed in my room.

What will I do differently in the future?

Dress more professionally:
You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression. Because I hadn’t been excited about this event, I was nonchalant about what I packed.  I was more interested in the book I was taking (Rebecca Rasmussen's The Bird Sisters) than what I wore. All of the women were wearing jackets. I felt frumpy in my sweaters.

Have my business cards readily available:
I wasn’t planning on meeting anyone, so I hadn’t thought about business cards. Luckily I had several haphazardly placed in my purse. In the future I will be more prepared. You never know who you are going to meet.

Follow up with new contacts:
This is the most important thing I learned. I received an email shortly after returning from a new contact describing her horrific return flight and providing follow up information to an issue we had discussed. This was an Aha moment for me. How thoughtful. I have never followed up with a new contact. How many opportunities for a genuine connection have I missed over the years?

Other networking tips I’d like to share:

Go alone or if you go with others sit with people you don’t know:
You will never meet anyone new if you socialize only with your friends and co-workers.

When you meet someone new don’t talk about you, ask questions:
One of my favorite suggestions from Megan Hustad's book How to Be Useful: A Beginner's Guide to Not Hating Work is to ask, “What project are you working on?” Ask a technical question others can participate in. Ask about the job market or the economy.

What not to talk about (I have witnessed all of these):
How smart you are.
How smart, talented and gifted your children are.
A minute by minute playback of the European vacation your family took in the 80’s.
Also, don’t direct your conversation to one person, talk to the entire table. (He or she wants to hear what everyone is talking about not your problems.)
Don’t monopolize the conversation with talk of your workplace.
Don’t describe in detail the spreadsheet you can’t get to balance.
Don’t give more than one hard luck story (you will be perceived as a train-wreck)

Don’t drink too much:
At the social event, I stuck to my one glass of wine with dinner rule and went home early. The next morning one of the event organizers filled me in on what transpired after I left: Which guests drank too much and who amongst the conference staff had to baby-sit them. And that the 20-something train-wreck from above spilled her drink on a highly respected business owner. He was not pleased. Don’t be the talk of the conference. Limit how much you drink.

Don't spend the entire conference working on your smart phone:
I know you love twitter, but it is rude to spend the entire conference tweeting your followers about how lame the speakers are. (I've witnessed this.) If you need to email or text, do so discreetly by placing your phone under the table.

Change your (my) attitude:
Since your company is paying for you to attend this event and even if they are not, why not get as much out of it as you can.

And lastly, give constructive feedback:
If there is something about the conference that didn't work for you let the organizers know. Nothing will change if they don’t know there is a problem.

Did I miss anything?  Do you have any conference etiquette or networking tips to share?


  1. All excellent ideas and observations. Like you, I loathe conferences - and fortunately don't have to go much! - but you might as well make yourself look as good, i.e., professional, as possible. You never know when someone in your field is looking - for you! Glad it turned out to be a good experience.

  2. I agree with Webb, wonderful observations! There is much to be put in practice by those who attend conferences and the like. I had to smile at your observation of "Dress more professionally" and your feeling "frumpy" in your sweaters. I think this happens to the best of us. Sometimes we overpack and other times, we underpack. Nevertheless, the outcome is always like Murphy's Law. The having business card readily available is true for any professional. You have no idea how many times I've had to wait for people to look for their cards, tell me they don't have any or simply look at me like I just asked for a kidney when all I did was ask, "Do you have a business card?"