When the nights start getting shorter and pumpkin spice makes its entrance at stores everywhere, you know it’s conference season.
If you’re a business development rep at a fintech firm, you’re probably signed up to attend events coast-to-coast for the next few months.
But if you’re a financial advisor, you’re likely looking to be more efficient in your choice of conference attendance (See: 5 reasons to attend Wealth/Stack).
The best conferences for financial advisors are already covered by Michael Kitces so I won’t delve into that a list here, but getting the most out of your conference attendance can be challenging if you don’t know where to begin.
Here’s what to consider before, during, and after a conference to help ensure you (and your business, too) benefit from your trip.
Identify your reasons for attending the event in the first place.
Do you want to connect with other professionals in your industry? That’s a great goal. In fact according to a very, very scientific poll I ran on Twitter, this is the reason why 36% choose to attend a particular event.
But there are plenty of other reasons why an event might make sense—maybe the conference is in town or close to you, which makes it a more affordable option than an event that’s 500 miles away.
You also might need to get some continuing education (CE) credits in for the year, and events like XYPN Live and Bob Veres’ Insider’s Forum would fit your needs if that’s your main concern.
The thing is, whatever the reason, you need to identify it.
Knowing why you’re going is the only way you’re going to be able to evaluate whether or not the conference was a success.
If you want to network, you’ve got to set a goal. Do you want to make 10 new connections? 20? Maybe you want to connect with 5 people who you think can help you get more referrals.
The first step sounds simple, but nothing else can happen without it: Before you head to an industry event, scope out your why.
When you create a business strategy, you check in from time-to-time on your progress toward your goals. You should take a similar approach during a conference.
Keep tabs on how you’re doing so you don’t leave the event disappointed that you weren’t as productive as you hoped you would be.
It might be as simple as keeping a checklist, whether it’s on your phone or a piece of paper. Write down the names of the 5 people you most want to meet. Check them off as you meet them each day (plus, you get that added psychological boost from checking a task off a list).
But even if networking isn’t your main concern…don’t forget networking.
Oleg Tishkevich, CEO of Invent.Us, said it best during his T3 Advisor 2019 keynote (and I’m paraphrasing here): Don’t sleep.
Recognize the advice is not literally “don’t sleep” — that’s just a catchy way of saying you need to go spend time with your fellow conference attendees and build relationships.
Think about it. You’re basically trapped inside of a hotel for three days with who knows how many other people. What could be a better relationship-building exercise than that?
Of course, you can’t forget the other goals you have set and “network” so much that you miss your CE credit at 8 am on the final day of the event…
If you went to a conference because it was in your town and you had no other expectations, then congratulations, I guess—you don’t have any more work to do.
Sip that Mai Tai poolside and work on that tan. You deserve it.
But if you had loftier goals about your participation, then the end of the conference is the beginning of the work—especially if networking was your main goal.
On the surface, networking is about adding more people to your circle of professional contacts. Literally, it’s about expanding your network.
But that’s surface-level networking. Real networking is about connecting on a personal level and developing relationships—and often friendships.
But doing that takes time. If you think that you can introduce yourself to one of the people you want to meet, chat with them for fifteen minutes at a party, and then expect yourself to become an important part of their circle, then your name had better be Tim Cook.
For the rest of us, the only way to make long-lasting relationships out of conference connection is to put in the time and effort to build a real relationship.
When you do create a new connection, remember these three simple rules for effective networking.
No matter how well you think you click, you aren’t BFFs forever (yet) with your new contact. So keep it professional and keep it respectful, especially if you’re a guy connecting with a female colleague (e.g. keep your beauty tips and your seven-second hugs to yourself.)
Nobody likes a taker, so be a giver. When you meet someone, you’ve got to look out for their interests. Put your fiduciary cap on during peer connections just like you would with a client. Bring a humble attitude and do what you can to bring value to them. In short, operate with an open-handed mentality.
Exchange business cards, swap phone numbers, whatever—but don’t let that be the end. Be prepared to stay in touch over the long haul if you want a connection to be more than foggy memory. It can be as simple as a check-in to see how business is going or to comment on something personal your connection shared on social media. Whatever you do, have a plan for follow up instead of randomly checking off a task. And through it all, rules 1 and 2 still have to be at the forefront.
Plan ahead for your next conference with this free PDF. Write down your goals, list who you want to connect with, set your schedule with “can’t miss” sessions, and create a plan for how you want to follow up with new connections once the conference is over.
Featured Image: Photo by Sticker Mule on Unsplash