Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Mike “Ambassador” Bruny @ambassadorbruny. Mike works with entrepreneurs and those who think like one to help them build stronger relationships. He is the creator of “The New Art of Conference Networking: #Hashtags to Handshakes.” For more information http://www.ambassadorbruny.com
Smallbizlady: I notice you use a hyphen when you talk about Net-working. What is that all about?
Mike “Ambassador” Bruny: Net-working is a new way of looking at traditional networking. I ask people to think about networking as if all the people they know represents a physical “net,” just like a fishing net. They have to put it to “work” if they expect to achieve your goals. Knowing a lot of people is not enough. You have to actually put those relationships to work.
Another aspect of Net-working is understanding that you are part of someone else’s net and have to be ready and willing to be put to work. Conference networking is a sub-set of networking. In conference networking, you may find yourself surrounded by more people, for more days than you would with other networking opportunities. There may be a couple of differences between local networking events and conferences. In your local events you may feel like Norm from the TV show Cheers. You walk in and everyone knows you name. When you’re at a conference you may find yourself around more and more strangers. That can be minimized with a little bit of research and engagement before the conference begins.
Smallbizlady: When it comes to Conference Networking, where do you suggest we start?
Mike “Ambassador” Bruny: Start with focus. List your current goals and how the conference you will attend will help to move those forward. Look at what you want to accomplish by using the traditional SMART goal setting format and add an additional “S” at the end for “Sharing.” You want to share your goal with at least one person who will help to keep you accountable.
Next, consider who at this conference can help you accomplish your goals. You may not know the exact names of the people, but you can focus on the kind of people who you think would be able to help you (their title, occupation, etc.). For example, if you are looking to start a bakery, you may be looking to connect with bakery suppliers to give you a sense of what pricing is like or you may be looking for administrators from culinary institutions to provide access to future employees.
Lastly you want to consider what you need to learn to bring you closer to your goals. When you know what you want to learn, it makes selecting which workshops to attend much easier. Being in the right workshop also connects you to the right participants and the right experts (speakers).
Smallbizlady: How does technology and social media come into play in conference networking?
Mike “Ambassador” Bruny: Technology and social media can help you connect with fellow participants, speakers and the organizers before the conference begins. Once at the conference there are apps you can use to exchange information without using a business card. I’ve been going “Green” by using this cool app called, #Hashable, which allows you to send a virtual business card to someone you meet and also set-up a reminder to follow-up after the conference.
Smallbizlady: What should we be looking for in relations to conference networking preparation when we are on the different social media platforms?
Mike “Ambassador” Bruny: You should be looking for who is already talking about the conference and who are the movers and shakers. You are definitely looking for a Twitter hashtag and a Facebook group for the conference. If one doesn’t exist, volunteer to create it. Most importantly you are following and participating in conversations in search of opportunities to add value.
Smallbizlady: Speaking of adding value, what if you don’t feel like you have anything to offer?
Mike “Ambassador” Bruny: The truth is we all have something to offer. It may be a sincere compliment, our opinion on a subject, or our expertise. If we take a moment to inventory different parts of our lives we will see that we have a lot to offer. I would suggest the exercise of capturing, “What I have to offer,” in the following areas: Education (what did I study), Sports (what do I follow, what do I know), Hobbies (what am I passionate about), People (who do I know). Another great question is, “What Jeopardy questions do I usually answer?”
Smallbizlady: What are some key ways you can connect with speakers and organizers?
Mike “Ambassador” Bruny: Start with research. You can Google them and see the latest information that comes up about them. You can visit their website, blog and review their social media sites. After doing a little bit of homework and discovering who will be there, you can reach out to the speaker(s) or organizer and let them know that you are looking forward to meeting them or hearing them speak. If you have enough time, read their book and come up with a question that you would like answered based on what you read.
Smallbizlady: When we do this research what should we be looking for?
Mike “Ambassador” Bruny: As you are doing all of this your mindset is the most important factor. You should be thinking, “What can I learn that will allow me to add value to the speaker or organizers?” You are really looking for opportunities to add value. You are also looking for any natural connections that exist. Maybe you are from the same town, share an alma mater or a passion for a sports team with the speaker or organizer. It makes for a good conversation starter.
Smallbizlady: What are some ways to stand out at a conference?
Mike “Ambassador” Bruny: I would say start with your appearance. Always dress a little bit better than what is “necessary” for the event. Dressing a little bit better does not mean flashy. I suggest investing in a stylist or at least learning the basics of fashion (mainly the importance of fit and classic items that should be part of your wardrobe). Ok, that’s the shell. On the inside I think what makes you stand out is being confident and comfortable. There are a couple of things you can do before hand to help increase your comfort and confidence.
- Get there a little early so you have a chance to meet a few people and get pass the feeling of not knowing anyone.
- Before the event get in touch with the local Visitors Bureau to find out what events are taking place outside of your conference. The person with the knowledge is the person everyone wants to be around.
- Act like the host. know where things are, introduce new people into your group conversation and smile.
Smallbizlady: What are some things to avoid?
Mike “Ambassador” Bruny: Not being engaged. Technology is great, but if it keeps your head down the whole event because you are tweeting, then “Houston we have a problem.” You are there to connect with other people. You have to engage them and put yourself in a position where you look like you are open to being engaged.
The other thing to avoid is what I call, “going for the jugular.” it sounds like this, “Hi, my name is so and so can you do X and Y for me.” or my favorite, “What do you do and what can you do for me?” I wish that last one was made up. Unfortunately its based on a true story from a recent conference. Realize that you are there to build relationships that will lead to business, not the other way around.
Smallbizlady: What’s the importance of Follow-up and what tips do you suggest?
Mike “Ambassador” Bruny: We’ve all heard this before, “The Fortune is in the follow-up.” It’s true; and so few people do it well that if you can master follow-up you will be way ahead of the game.
I mentioned the app that is available for iPhones and Android phones called #Hashable. I think it is one of the best for follow-up because it allows you to put in a reminder that is placed on your calendar and also comes up on your email when you said you would follow-up.
Before the apps, I would collect business cards and write information on the back of it to remind me where I met the person and any relevant notes. As soon as I got a moment I would send them a “It was nice to meet you” email and suggest that we connect in a few weeks. I would put the follow-up date in my calendar and go from there.
The last tip I would provide about follow-up is a stay in touch strategy. You can be strategic about it and create a list for people you would like to connect with once a month, every 3 months, every 6 months and once a year. You can create it on LinkedIn, Facebook or create an excel spreadsheet to manage it all (I’m sure there are other CRM tools that allow you to do the same thing).
Smallbizlady: Any parting words on Conference Networking?
Mike “Ambassador” Bruny: Networking at a conference is an excellent opportunity to connect with a lot of people in a short amount of time. Note that doing a little bit of homework before hand and coming up with a list of people you would like to meet will make your time at the conference more productive.
I have to go back to mindset as the most important things and leave you with two affirmations that you can use before your next conference: 1. I add value to every interaction I have; 2. I have a plan in place and I will meet everyone that I am supposed to meet at this conference.
If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9pm ET follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter. Here’s how to participate in #SmallBizChat: http://bit.ly/S797e
For more tips on how start or grow your small business subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com.
Melinda F. Emerson, known to many as SmallBizLady is one of America’s leading small business experts. As a seasoned entrepreneur, professional speaker, and small business coach, she develops audio, video and written content to fulfill her mission to end small business failure. As CEO of MFE Consulting LLC, Melinda educates entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies on subjects including small business start-up, business development and social media marketing. Forbes Magazine recently named her one of the Top 20 women for entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. She hosts #SmallBizChat Wednesdays on Twitter 8-9pm ET for emerging entrepreneurs. She also publishes a resource blog www.succeedasyourownboss.com Melinda is also the author of the national bestseller Become Your Own Boss in 12 months; A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business That Works. (Adams Media 2010)