Tips for attending professional events
Professional events come in all shapes and sizes. From local meet-ups to launch parties and conferences. Here’s my simple plan to getting the most out of these different events.
Set your objectives
Without a goal it’s hard to evaluate your performance. Make sure you get your objectives straight before you get to the event. In some cases, these objectives might have been decided for you (i.e. your boss sends you).
You can go to an event to build out existing relationships, meet new people or educate yourself. Make sure your objectives are appropriate for the event you’re planning to attend.
Being courteous is especially important when attending smaller events Even though this is not required, I always bring a small gift for the host. This doesn’t have to be super original – if often bring a cheap bottle of wine – but it’s a good gesture.
Always greet your host when arriving and before you leave. This might be tough at bigger events, but again, it’s a good way of showing your appreciation.
Don’t keep you host busy for too long though; there are plenty of other people they have to attend to. Briefly thank them, congratulate them on the occasion and ask where your mutual acquaintances are at.
It’s a good rule to first catch up with the people you know. I like to catch up with existing connections for the following reasons:
I prefer building strong, long-lasting relationships with people rather than a lot of superficial ones. Because I do a lot of remote work, these parties are often one of the few opportunities to talk face-to-face with the people I work with.
These people will probably introduce you to other people, which is always better than walking up to a random stranger.
When you finished talking to your exiting connections it’s time to mingle. This often the hardest part of the evening, at least for me. Identifying people to talk to can be really tough, but it depends on the crowd. There are a few simple heuristics to recognize people you might want to approach.
Loners; the easiest to recognize. Most of the time these people are either waiting for someone to return or just finished another conversation.
Bored people; often found in larger groups. They either don’t really pay attention to the conversation or have a hard time participating. The latter category is harder to spot, but bored people often start looking at other things rather the people they are trying to converse with.
Your “own people”; as I wrote earlier, picking a techie from a crowd isn’t that hard. It’s easier to talk to people with common interests and really hard to converse with people you don’t have anything in common with. These people are probably really easy to recognize too.
When you’ve finished your conversation, don’t be afraid to tell you’re moving on to a next group. Don’t tell your conversation partner you’ll get back to them later when you’re not planning on doing so.
If your objective was to meet new people, you’re not done yet. I like to follow up with people by sending them an email with links/projects we’ve talked about. By sending them an email, you’re now in their most used communication system – their inbox.
Don’t be that guy that “connects” with everyone on LinkedIn the next morning. I personally don’t carry business cards and I’ve noticed fewer and fewer people do. If you can’t remember my name, our conversation probably wasn’t very interesting.
In 90% of the cases, you can easily find the email address of the person you’re looking for by searching for their name and company. Use your Google-fu.
It’s a skill
Some people seem to be natural at these things, but they probably went to a lot of events to get to this point. Evaluate what went good and what not. Ask friends or co-workers if you’re having difficulty with certain things.
As with everything it takes a lot of practice to master a skill. I certainly still have a long way to go.