A couple of decades ago, conferences were meant for big-big companies, nowadays you can find conferences for every interest. Cats, funny pictures, natural born walkers, those who hate going to conferences, everyone.
This is a good thing if you look at it in a positive way. People find their alikes and their search for relaxation or job is not meant to be guided only by the internet. We go back being personal, right? (with help of technology though)
On the other way around organizing and participating on a conference involves lot of organization from your side. Preparation. You pay the participation fee, book the hotel, gala dinner, buy new clothes, stay on diet to fit into them and print new business cards.
When you are then finally there, in between the sessions, you join the so-called “networking events”, aka: you talk to people. These networking events are almost more important than the sessions. Since it is quite impossible that so many new things happen in your industry that you would hear about things for the first time in your life in a session, I am tempted to say that a good conference is a couple of speeches in between networking events and not the other way around. Better, if the speeches are interesting.
What happens to me in a row for the second time though that somehow I forget to bring enough business cards for these events. Last time in London I had none, this time I prepared about 50 but forgot them at home and brought with myself only the case with like eight cards inside. Crazy, no?
I would have had the opportunity of letting myself rain over the coffee-break tables instead I need to save my cards and think about, who I really would like to give it.
This raised a completely different approach in me. Rather than browsing only 15 minutes at a table, leaving my cards, after having said my elevator pitch in super-speed to build a K2L minefield in the lunch room, which might explode now or later who knows where and when, I actually listened to people to know, if they would need my card, if they ever would come to me with even just a question. I asked them questions to hear and to know if they were “worth” to be one of the eight elected, who will have my card.
It was a crazy whole new approach. While I also heard talks like: “Look, I have the same purse at home” “Oh, really? Cute! Let’s exchange business cards!”, I was sweating that I will run out of these eight cards, before the conference ends.
I even negated their existence in front of a medical translator, who also does law in Polish-German, since my goal here with networking was: finding new mates to build a team for translating wine and food texts to help small wineries to grow. I am not doing law, neither medical translations and most probably I would never recommend this person only, because I have her business card. I have no idea, who she is, she just gave me her card and ran away.
Behind all cards there are people. We all know that your card should be like a mini-you having all the necessary information together about you and your business and should be memorable for people who you give it to, but shouldn’t you also be interesting to these people? Shouldn’t you know at least something about them? How many people should you talk to in a networking event? Is “the more the better” or “the deeper the better”? What are your goals with giving your business cards? Creating the above mentioned mine-field or targeting someone? Isn’t the latter why we have our faces on the conference homepage so others can see, who we are?
After lunch with my business school mates – first time meeting in person – during relaxation in the terrasse I met a couple of girls, we had good laughs while telling our worst stories of past interpreting jobs. (BTW: best one ever when a guy was invited to work in a plant where he was supposed to do interpretation between a German engineer and the Polish workers. Then the engineer arrived and was Polish. The guy said: “I had to stand there next to him for two nights in a row and do nothing. For the second day I downloaded an audiobook to kill time”) When after a coming session then I met a girl from lunch, I immediately associated her with the terrasse people – the two things happened one after the other – and told her what good laughs we had. She looked at me strangely and said: I don’t know, what you are talking about. Awkward silence and then I just asked where we met. I mean….after the half day such a gaffe…and I am sure, I might get on the second day the same business cards from the same people because we have just no idea that we already know each other.
A conference should inspire, motivate and give you the chance to get connected with people who are more alike you among the people who just happen work in your field. You should have plenty business cards with you, sure. You can choose the method, you wish, you pour them on people, you give it after you got it, you ask everyone, if they would like to have one, but what you should understand, business cards are not given to fill up an empty space in someone else’s cupboard. They are to be used to get connected with people who can help in your business. (emphasis on connected)
Well, I only have one left for today…