1) Do your homework
Before going to GEW do a little bit of research into who will likely be in attendance. Make some notes on who you would like to talk to and think of some talking points. Get to know GEW better –everyone appreciates someone who has some helpful tips about different events.
2) Invest in your business cards
The classic scene from American Psycho in which Patrick Bateman nearly breaks into convulsions at the sight of his rival’s off-white, embossed, watermarked business card fixed the cult of the business card into the popular imagination. And while the majority of us aren’t quite as obsessed as Bateman, most people do judge you by that little piece of paper.
Your business cards are the only tangible thing people have to remember you by after the event so commit time, money and energy into their design. Unless you work in advertising, marketing or design-related areas, being creative isn’t necessarily the most important thing. More relevant is that you invest in good quality paper and printing and that you include your details clearly. Aside from your name, position and contact details think about including a QR code which links directly to your LinkedIn.
Store your business cards in a business card holder and don’t forget to write notes on cards you receive. When you are trawling through piles of paper after the event you will appreciate those little memory cues.
3) Be brave
The opening words are usually the most difficult. But remember that there are many people just as nervous as you. Everyone is there for the same reason – to talk and see what opportunities are available. Start up a conversation with simple questions such as “how are you enjoying the event so far?” or “what did you think of the speaker?” These opening remarks are neutral but can still reveal a lot about the person you are speaking with. Don’t go for the hard sell – you will come across as desperate.
4) Treat everyone with respect
Before attending GEW be clear on your strengths and skills; have a good idea of what and with whom you want to communicate but equally be open to the potential of others. Don’t talk about yourself too much and try not to be too goal-fixated as you will appear cold. Forget your personal agenda and be friendly and honest. Don’t dismiss people because of their titles on their business cards – you never know what opportunities could present themselves in the unlikeliest of places.
5) Be aware of timing
While being open to people generally is key, it is also ok to approach targeted individuals with a pitch. By and large that’s what the established names at GEW are there for. But it’s all about timing. It can be incredibly frustrating to be suddenly tapped on the shoulder mid-conversation by an overenthusiastic would-be-entrepreneur. Likewise don’t interrupt if someone is rushing to another appointment. We even heard stories last year of some entrepreneurs approaching people at urinals – this is a definite no no!
6) Understand body language
This is a point that is definitely underestimated by people. And it has two aspects – your body language and that of others. When you meet others for the first time, it’s your non-verbal communication that the person will rely on the most to make decisions about you. Walk into the room with a strong, confident posture, try not to hang around the edges of the room but move towards the centre. When greeting people have a firm handshake and when talking smile and make eye contact.
Equally it is important to recognise the body language of others. This makes the job of breaking into conversation a little easier too, especially if people seem to have already formed groups. Look for gaps in groups or look to join circles where one person’s feet and shoulders are slightly outwardly turned.
7) Connect People
Listening to people and connecting people you think could genuinely help each other is a win-win situation. You will get respect and build relationships with two separate camps and they will be able to find someone of genuine help to them.
Always close the conversation by saying something like, “If I can help with anything, please reach out to me via LinkedIn” and present your business card. Following business connections via social media is a quick and efficient first step towards developing contacts post-GEW. Equally, sending out a quick and personalized email to people you have met is a nice way to build relationships. Answering a question or adding some information to the topic of your GEW-conversation is a nice way to add personal detail. But a word of warning – everyone hates those generic post-conference emails with no information. Forget those!