Pre-planning for events is critical to maximizing your investment. Researching speakers and fellow attendees, preparing your intro and origin story, and prioritizing who you want to connect with will help you make the most of your limited time.
If I’m going to an event I try to allocate 40% of my bandwidth to pre-event planning, 20% of my bandwidth towards participating at the event itself, and the remaining 40% for post event follow ups. The majority of folks do little to no pre-planning and little to no post event follow-ups, which is a costly mistake in my opinion because to me, that’s really where the majority of the value stems from.
No matter what, you need to be ready to Introduce yourself, share your story, and engage in small talk. All three of these are things that you can (and should) practice, refine, and get super comfortable with in advance.
Introductions, Origin Stories, and Small Talk:
Introducing yourself on the fly almost always goes wrong because (if you’re an introvert) you’re nervous when you meet virtually anyone for the first time. This results in introductions being too long, too wordy, too timid or too boastful. All of which will leave a bad first impression. When done right, you introduction will leave people wanting to know more about you. Ultimately wanting to learn more about your origin story. And this is, again, something you can easily prepare in advance.
I recommend that you have 3 different lengths of origin stories already prepared… 30 seconds, 90 seconds, and 3 minutes. Context matters, and some conversations will require you share short versions of your story and some conversations will require you to share a longer version. So have these prepared, memorized, and constantly work to refine them. In general, they’re a great thing to have in your back pocket because you really never know when you’re going to need them. I’ve shared my story hundreds of times and always test different variations to gauge reactions. Are they interested, intrigued, passive or bored? Body language says a lot, and I’m always refining my story based off of it. And as a side note, I don’t mean memorize word for word so much so that you get emotionally detached from the conversation and go into autopilot when talking. You simply want to know your story really well, particularly the order of events.
The third and final thing that you can prepare for is small talk. Nothing is more awkward then when you meet someone for the first time, exchange a few words back and forth and there’s a dead space in the conversation where you’re both standing there, staring at each other and neither of you know what to ask next. Have 3 to 5 small talk questions in the back of your mind at all times to fill those conversation gaps. Here are a few questions to keep in your back pocket when meeting new people..
Where are you from? Were you born and raised there? If the answer is yes, follow up with: Has (insert city here) changed a lot over the years? If the answer is no, How did you find yourself in… ?
What brings you to this event? Have you met anybody interesting here thus far?
Its important to think not only about the initial question, but follow up questions as well. From these answers you should be able to dig deeper into a conversation.
The purpose of small talk in my opinion is to find an area of common ground. That could be a shared commonality from the past (maybe you share a mutual friend), a shared commonality from the present (maybe you both are in similar industries) or a shared commonality in future (maybe you have similar end goals). It’s like the top of a marketing funnel. Your talking about all kinds of stuff across various topics in search of a something you share in common. And again, look outside of business. Yes, your profession may be a commonality that you share, but that’s simply not strong enough. The deeper the uncommon commonality, the deeper the bond.
When events are done right and there’s some kind of vetting process or selection criteria in place, finding yourself in a group of like minded individuals can be priceless. So do yourself a favour and research an event in advance so that you can really leverage the limited time you have to build relationships while you’re there.
Research those who will be speaking, and research those who will be in attendance. Even though MMT is one of the few events that does not provide an attendee list in advance, the majority of events do. Dig deep into bios, blogs, PR, and social media profiles. Capture interesting things about them, potential uncommon commonalities that you may share along with any mutual friends you may have. Researching in advance will not only give you an unfair advantage when walking into a room, it will result in you being way more comfortable overall because you’re not walking into that room blind.
Once you’ve done that, strategize your time by prioritizing who you want to connect with while you’re there. Ultimately you have very limited bandwidth when at an event. There are far more people to connect with than you have time. So prioritizing when possible is an important exercise. Focus on prioritizing the people that you know you’re most likely to hit it off with based on the research you’ve already done. Folks who share similar uncommon commonalities. Highlight these people in advance and plan 2-3 talking points that you can hit when and if you get the chance to talk with them.
And finally, one last word of advice: go in with low expectations.
Don’t strive to connect with every single person at an event. Depending on the length of the event, shoot to go deep with 3-5 people. I often see people make the mistake of trying to connect with everyone, which ultimately leaves them connecting with no-one. Don’t make that same mistake.
Aim to go really shallow with the trivial many, and really deep with a selective few.