Best Advice When Going or Speaking at a Conference

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to share some of my experience in conference speaking.  Warning, unintended braggadocio statements to follow.  Between 1999 and 2007, I took the opportunity to share information and research about a specific technology.  In my case, this was Metadata which is basically data about data.  Over the years, I did about 41 speeches and some I actually got paid for.  The travel opportunities took my wife to places we would never have gone by ourselves.  Anyway, this group asked me to give them some advice on things I learned along the way.  Not wanting to give the same advice you could get from a Toastmasters meeting or the Interweb, I keep my comments to just five items.  I’ll save four of them for later but I will share the final piece of advice here.

One of the things I noticed when I went to these conferences is that people travel in packs.  You see the same people from the same company eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Usually this group pairs off into the different sessions but at break time, the pack forms again.  They each carry a sign that says don’t talk to us and stay away.  The funniest is when they take selfies to share with folks back at the office and in the background are the same people that went with them.  Why?  Does the manager, say now be sure to take this opportunity to get to know your co-workers?  Well, yes that is what happens.  Of course, we also hang out with people we know because strangers make us uncomfortable.  This can be the worst possible thing you can do, especially if you are a speaker and hope to have repeat performances.

My simply advice is to meet people.  Meet the people in your session before and after your speech.  Meet people at the lunch table and during the breaks.  Yea, we know.  Networking is good for us.  I thought you were going to share something of value in this post.  Hang on…  In my first couple of speeches, when I was terrible and spoke like a Baptist Preacher throwing hell fire and brimstone.  I met a few folks.  Here is a short list and the impact they had on my short speaking career.

  • I met the CEO of Boing at a lunch table.  Within 8 months, I was speaking in front of his Executives at an Executive LwD.  Not to mention a job offer.
  • I met the European counterpart to the conference organizer at my night session.  Within 12 months, I had offers to come to England, France, and Germany.
  • I met the same type person but was from Australia.  Within a couple of years, I would be flying to Sydney all expenses paid.
  • I met a nice lady who seemed very unassuming but had a few kind words to say.  With a year, I would be writing a monthly column for the industry magazine.  She turned out to be the editor.

I could go on but you get the picture.  Hanging out with your coworkers may help you back at the office but if you want to really succeed drop them at the cookie line and start networking.

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