How many times have you flown home from a conference and thought, “Well, that was a waste of time”? If you’re like us, it’s more times than you care to count. Since it’s that time of year again, why not make sure this year’s conferences are worth your while?
These things aren’t cheap. We’re not just talking about money. We’re talking about time. You’re trying to recruit talent in one of the most competitive, rapidly changing markets in history. Justifying the time and expense associated with attending a conference requires one heck of a payoff.
No matter who you are (employer, search firm, recruiter, etc.), you should be looking for the same things: resources and information that help you do your job better and more efficiently. Can this experience connect you to candidates and customers? Can you access ideas and information to help you do your job?
At Scout, we’re all about connecting you to experts in their fields. That’s why, when we wanted insights on networking, we talked to Diane Darling. Arguably, no one knows more about how to make the most of conference time than she does. Darling is a noted speaker and author of The Networking Survival Guide and Networking for Career Success, two of the definitive texts on effectively connecting with other people.
Here’s some of the advice we’ve identified based on our collective experience:
Respect your own time: Find out who’s going, determine who you might be able to meet with. Look at the speakers ahead of time. Darling suggests connecting with speakers in advance. She’ll email to introduce herself and ask, “Is there a question you’d like me to ask during the Q&A?” It opens the conversation and creates a connection. She’s also created a map at www.HowToWorkARoom.Org that outlines how to make the most of your time in the moment.
Keep your end in mind. There’s a lot to get out of a conference, but there are also a lot of options. When you’re headed to the exhibit hall, think about the immediate challenges you’re looking to solve and which vendors can give you more insight and possibly help. At Scout, a lot of the people we talk to are thinking about things like talent shortages, keeping up with the latest technology and accessing hard-to-find talent. If they’ve done their homework at all, they’ll find Scout experts ready and willing to talk – regardless of whether or not they’re a potential client.
Think outside the exhibit hall: Darling says one of the best places to network is the hotel bar or restaurant. Darling recommends starting a sentence with Tell me… to get the conversation started. Tell me what brought you here. or Tell me where you’re from. “Everyone is there alone. If you ask enough questions of the person next to you, you’re likely to find some common ground.”
Expect to learn something: A lot of the folks we speak with at conferences are looking to understand how they should be using technology to recruit more efficiently. Artificial intelligence is a great example. The people we meet want to know how they should be using AI and machine learning to further their own objectives. Our team is ready and willing to introduce people to AI concepts and explain how we’re using it to connect employers to the recruiters they need in that moment. Some of these connections become clients. Others aren’t quite ready yet. Either way, we’re happy to hear about people’s experiences and share some of our own.
If you’ve paid for a booth, expect some customer service: “Booth owners are basically paying for the event,” according to Darling. Organizers should be hosting the booth owners. That means you should expect something more than an ad in the conference app in return. “The organizers should be taking you around, introducing you to people.”
Be conscious of unconscious bias: Funny thing about conferences. You never know who’s going to be there. Darling talks about unknowingly chatting it up with the mother of one of the organizers of a TED conference. “Who’s the search firm going to talk to? The kid in jeans or the guy in the suit? Well, one is chronically unemployed and the other just sold a company for 50 million dollars. Guess who’s who. The point is, never discount anyone.”
Of course, all of this happens after you’ve decided whether to go to a conference at all. Darling calls this The Whether Report. “It’s about whether or not to go at all.” Can the host deliver a benefit? Are the other attendees people you want to meet? Does the structure enable it? Do the cost and logistics work in your favor?
There are a lot of questions to ask. You should feel free to ask them.