It’s conference season! There’s just something about the fall that attracts multiple conferences, networking events, and seminars. Even for the military community, October is jam-packed with events featuring so much great information, it’s hard to keep track. I think one could travel every single day throughout that month and attend an event.
But there is so much more to attending an event than just showing up. Yes, there is value in networking, but only if you know how to do it. Beyond networking, there are other ways to prepare for an event so you get the most out of it.
Figure out what you want
Why are you attending this event? Everyone has a different reason for attending. Some are looking to make contacts or strictly to network. Others are using a smaller, local event as a building block for a bigger event in the upcoming months. Still others may show up specifically to see someone or hear a speaker. In a room of 20 people, you’ll get 20 different answers as to why they are there. Once you figure out what you want out of the event, you can adjust everything to achieve that goal.
“My goal for attending would be to connect with as many businesses outside of my own so that when I find someone in need of their services, I can connect them,” said spouse Brooke Grossmann.
Order business cards
Yes, you need business cards. No, they don’t have to be super fancy or expensive. Shh, they don’t even have to be super specific. You can put name, email, and phone number on a card. You don’t have to have a current job to have a business card! Think of this card as the physical reminder of meeting someone. What do you want them to know about you? Do you have a certification, are you looking for something specific? While my card may now say “Writer” on it, a few years ago when I was job searching, it would have just said my name and contact information. (Hint, these generic cards also work well for meeting people at school or your kids’ friends.)
Lindsay Bradford, 2016 Armed Forces Insurance Navy Spouse of the Year, has a great habit of jotting down notes on business cards as she meets someone new.
Check the dress code
No one wants to be the one person dressed oddly at an event. This becomes even more complicated when you are travelling for an event. It’s pretty safe to say that most professional events are going to be conducted in business attire. When in doubt, dress up, not down. I’m going to be bold and say no jeans! If you travel light, consider throwing in a suit jacket, which makes everything from a pair of dress pants to a dress magically more businesslike.
“I always study the invitation to help me figure out dress code. Sometimes you have to play detective and take an educated guess,” says spouse Rheanna Bernard.
After you’ve figured out what you’re going to say, wear, and bring with you, it’s time to prepare for the actual event. Take a look at the speakers and the agenda. Figure out what sessions you want to attend, and what questions you’d ask if given the opportunity. Does one of the speakers really resonate with you? Make sure to get there early to get a good seat, and be prepared to speak with that person if the situation arises. A little bit of research can go a long way here. There’s nothing quite like the opportunity to talk to someone you look up to, and then realize you’ve nothing to say.
When I was preparing for a recent event, I took the time to follow the speakers on social media and look at their websites. I was aware of their current projects, which gave me something to ask about.
Prepare your elevator pitch
If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that each and every person at an event should be prepared to talk about themselves. Not just their name and their job, but to sell themselves. Recently, National Military Spouse Network President Sue Hoppin discussed this elevator pitch at a networking session at the Florida RoadShow. She advised that military spouses in particular focus on themselves and their accomplishments, without mentioning their service member spouse or family. And, she said, end with an “ask,” or something you want the person you’re talking to do for you. This should be about 30 seconds and should leave the other person knowing enough about you to follow up later.
Military spouse Andi Wrenn has five things she wants people to know when she’s done with her elevator pitch. “I also really want them to know that I am open and approachable,” she said, “I always mention what I do and what my program does, how they can join, and I want them to hear my passion for it when I speak.”
By Rebecca Alwine