CES just wrapped up and right now, I would have been on a plane to Anaheim for the NAMM convention. So of course, I've been getting all sorts of questions about how to network without trade shows. I'll share those thoughts in my upcoming Pro Sound News column but for now, I want to share my Trade Show & Events playbook. I've broken this down into 3 parts — what to do before the event, what to do at the event, and what to do after the event. I have provided step-by-step instructions for making the most of attentding any show — be it in person or online.
PRE-SHOW PREP WORK
Having a successful show is completly dependent on the amount of time spent on prep work. Here is my pre-show check list. I follow this religiously.
- I research the event and look up who will be there — I look up speakers and vendors.
- I scan to see if I recognize anyone who’s speaking or exhibiting. If I do, then I reach out and say hello and that I look forward to catching up in person at the show.
- But I don’t just stop there. I add their names to my LIST OF PEOPLE TO SEE AT THE SHOW. And then I refer back to that list. A lot. To make sure that we ACTUALLY meet and don’t just talk about it.
- I regonize that hows get busy. People get busy. So I make the effort to make it happen. I fit in times with coffee. Breakfast. Dinner. Drinks. Whatever it takes.
- The first 4 steps are the bare necessity so I take the time to go above and beyond. I make notes about interesting people who caught my eye. People that I don’t know but whom I’d like to meet. I think about why I’d like to meet them and make notes about what I’d like to accomplish with their help. Then I reach out, say that I’ll be at the event and that I appreciate their work and that I’ll stop over to say hello and to introduce myself in person.
- And finally — I think about who I know in the general area and then I reach out to them too and mention that I’ll be at so & so event and ask if they’ll be there too? I invite them to come down. Or mention that we should get together after the show.
- And what do I do when most people don’t write me back? When no one responds? After all my effort and hard work? I get over it. I understand that no one has time for me. People are busy. I don’t take it personally. I don’t bring my baggage to this. I don’t make up stories. I recognize that I made the effort. I showed up. I did your best. And next time, I work on writing shorter & more compelling emails when reaching out! 3 short sentences is already too long!
After I've locked my pre-show work, I make it a point to constantly review my game day check list. From doing this countless times, I know that these are the differences that make an event worthwhile. Here is how I show up to every event:
- I show up with a smile. It matters.
- I say Hello to new people and make them feel comfortable and at home.
- I speak genuinely and authentically.
- I start each new relationship as if I’m already good friends. I stay polite but skip the formalities. I just jump right into the good stuff.
- I dress appropriately. First impressions matter.
- I commit to not being negative or spreading negativity. I leave my bummer stories and my bummer self at home.
- I practice being interesting and being interested — that means that I must genuinely listen.
- When things are difficult and scary, I remind myself to be grateful for where I am at.
- I do not ask someone that I just met what they do.
- I do not tell someone that I just met what I do. I know that people are not their work so I don’t treat them as such.
- I try to be a great conversationalist — I’ll get back to this one one a later article. I have some concrete steps guaranteed to improve this aspect of your life.
- In spite of myself, I try to be classy and to have impeccable manners. I usually fail miserably but I do know that manners go a long way when everything else breaks down.
- I keep a notebook and a pencil in my pocket. I jot down notes after each conversation. When conversations stack, I make a point to find a quiet place to log notes before I forget. My memory can only hold 3 things so I make a point of writing down my commitments which I know I will review later.
- And lastly — I get a card and offer mine upon leaving. I do this knowing that a card is simply an efficient means of transmitting contact data. Nothing more. Having a card doesn't make someone a friend and it certainly doesn't mean I can call and ask for a favor.
THE REAL WORK
Going to the show is useless if I don't close the loop and follow up. The time that it takes to follow up after I meet someone new depends on the amount of commitments I made. If I don't follow up, then I'll I've done is play the card shuffle and waste my time and the time of others.
- The first thing to do is to file the contact.
- If I just met a new person for the first time, I add their name, number and email into my contacts. If I can, I also try to note where they work and associate them with their company. It's ideal if I cancross reference them with the event so that I have an origin of where we first met.
- I do this in Solve360, the CRM platform that I use but you can do all of this in Google Contacts, Apple Contacts or Outlook. These tools are good enough for storing contact information.
- If it wasn’t the first time I met, then their info should already be in my system. If it’s not, this is a good time to get it up to speed.
- The second thing I do is to shoot them an email. I keep it light and simple. I let them know that I enjoyed the time we spent yaking and that I'm looking forward to crossing paths again.
- If I made any commitments, this is a good time and place to wrap those up. I add those to my email.
- I refer back to my notes to make sure I do everything I said I would.
- If I'm going to make an introduction, I mention that I'll be making the introduction in a separate email. And then I do it.
- And finally. The last thing that I do is build in a trigger or reminder to follow up with them at a vaguely distant future date. I just set a reminder on my calendar. I pick any random date. And then I just check in again and ask how things are doing. Just to say hi. It doesn't matter. I'm just creating an excuse to move the relationship forward.
- See — Contacts aren’t relationships. Contacts aren’t friendships. They’re just possibilities. They’re like little flower buds. They have the potential to blossom into something amazing. But left untended, nothing’s going to happen.
Doing your Pre-Show Work. Showing Up. And following up. That’s not networking. That’s just contact gathering.
Networking happens when I turn contacts into friendships. That takes time and a process.