I attended the annual Gov Con awards this past week in Washington DC. This is the event recognizing leaders in the government contracting space. There were over 1,300 people in attendance. It occurred to me that I would have a great opportunity to observe various approaches to networking. I had recently written an article about referrals that apparently struck a chord with many readers, and figured this would be a good follow-up topic.
I then saw something that caught my attention: Around the perimeter of the large crowd, there were dozens of would-be professionals checking email, texting, and generally using their smartphones. We all know it is bad form to check your email during dinner (my wife was kind enough to not-so-gently explain that to me a few years ago). Maybe these people had a pressing need to send a text to their buddy instead of investing in face-to-face time with people in their industry at the very event their company paid for them to attend.
I made it a point to write down the company names from their badges and have listed them in the next paragraph.
Nah – I wouldn’t do that (Were you scared that you or your company would have made the list?). However, when you or a knucklehead at your company is focused on your phone instead of the people in the room, anyone passing by can take notice. They might even walk right past you and speak to your competitor who is not distracted by his or her phone and is more than willing to discuss your client’s most pressing issues. I had a few other observations to help attendees and organizers for these award events:
- Know your VIP’s names: Twice during the event the co-hosts mispronounced the names of sponsors. The great line of the evening was when Vic Seested of UBS was introduced to present an award and the host introduced Vic as his “good friend” and mispronounced his last name. Vic, without missing a beat, said with a smile “We must not be that good of friends since you couldn’t pronounce my name.” He got a huge laugh from the sell-out crowd. The co-hosts remain nameless as they generally did a fine job with nothing but the best of intentions. Take the time to review everyone’s names and ensure proper pronunciation of the sponsors, finalists, and winners.
- Don’t be attracted by numbers: A friend of mine said “This is an awesome event. 1,300 people. Wow!” Keep in mind that in a networking situation, size doesn’t matter (so much). If you have about an hour to network, and you spend 3 minutes with the average person, you only have time for 20 conversations. Most of us would be lucky to have 6 conversations with people we don’t already know. I recommend smaller groups of your ideal audience. In a group of 30 people, you can connect beyond a superficial level. In addition, the first person you meet might actually remember the problems you solve for clients when they meet someone else who could benefit from your services.
- You are NOT there to close a deal: One of the biggest mistakes I see at networking and tradeshow events is the person who quickly discovers an ideal potential client. They quickly go into “sales mode” and try to close a deal. Let me let you in on a little secret: It’s not going to happen. If you uncover a potential fit, your goal should be to setup a firm meeting to discuss it in an appropriate setting. You are both there to network. So, neither of you should monopolize the other’s time. If you want to use your smartphone, you now have my permission to check your calendar, and find a mutually agreed time to continue the conversation. Steve Dorfman would then say that you should send them a calendar invitation to confirm the meeting.
With the exception of jotting down a note, or checking your calendar, your smartphone does not have a place at these events. Oh, and for those of you who like to tweet during a function, the speaker and those surrounding you just assume you are sending messages to a friend or checking email… put it away. If you are a news reporter displaying a press pass, go for it.
What great networking stories can you share?