The Blog of Jake Kelfer
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Going to a big conference or networking event soon? I have you covered. As you scroll through you'll be able to see 3 influential ways you can prepare for your next event that will reduce your nerves and set you up for incredible success.
This past weekend I had the chance to attend an amazing conference called NAWD. The attendees were a mixed group of about 300 educators, speakers, Student Activities Advisors, and much more, and they all had a passion for education and positive growth.
I heard of this conference several months prior to the date of the event and marked it on my calendar immediately as I knew this was a conference I had to attend. When I first became aware of it, I knew it was going to be a great place to learn and network, but in order to maximize my experience I needed to prepare.
A huge piece of authentic connection comes from your ability to prepare. We’ve all heard that failing to prepare is preparing to fail, and it’s true. Often times, people get ready to attend a networking event or a conference and are very excited, yet when they get there, the event is disappointing because they didn’t prepare enough or weren’t clear on exactly what they wanted to gain from the experience.
Another challenge many people face when going to a conference is being nervous of meeting new people and trying to build relationships or start conversations out of thin air. Preparation will helps calm your nerves and if you put in the effort, amplify your experience before you even arrive.
Now, as much as I would love to say I was going to this conference purely for a fun trip to Atlanta that isn’t the whole story. I was going to this conference for a chance to connect with more people in my line of work to build relationships, share ideas, grow my business, and provide some incredible value.
There are many way to prepare and everyone will have their own style, but I’ve narrowed it down into three main areas to focus on to best help you prepare for your next networking event or professional conference or any other gathering in which you hope to achieve something through connection.
HAVE A PLAN
There’s a reason why this is on of the Kelf Keys in Elevate Your Network. It’s important. Too often people attend a conference or go to a networking event and think that just by attending they will be able to achieve their objective.
Even more so, a lot of people go to a conference without a specific objective in mind. Your objective doesn’t have to always be to generate new business even though that is a very common reason why people attend conferences. It can be as simple as learning 3 new things that you can take back to work or meeting 5 new people who share similar views as you, or even, going to have fun and enjoy a few days in a new location. Whatever your objective is, it’s your job to identify it, be clear on it, and then take action to achieve it.
My objectives for attending this conference were to meet amazing people who are inspiring students across the globe to achieve greatness, learn from experienced speakers and educators who have been around longer than me so I can figure out new ways to create value in my speeches and programs, and to provide value through my workshop. By focusing on these objectives as my priorities, I knew that growing my business would come as a result. I tried to position my mindset into being WE driven rather than ME driven.
Once you have a plan and a strategy, think about all the actions you can take to achieve your objective(s) and then do them.
As you build out and execute your plan, a key piece will be doing research.
You might be reading this and wondering what could I possibly research heading into a conference with other speakers and educators. Well, the answer is a lot.
In order for me to achieve my objectives, I had to make sure I was well researched. I wanted to figure out who might be in attendance and tips and suggestions for how to maximize my workshop just to name a couple.
I spent a lot of time researching all of the workshops from the past several years to see how topics have evolved over time. I looked to see who presented workshops in the past to learn where different people were coming from. I also studied who did workshops in the past so I could reach out to them in advance of the conference to get advice which would enhance my performance and impact during my workshop.
When I was researching who was going to be there, I focused on where they were coming from and what their background was. If they were an educator from Florida, I made sure to think about experiences or questions I could ask that would lead to finding common ground.
If they were a speaker, I spent time learning more about their message so that when I met them I could bring it up. I also tried to see if we had mutual connections as that is an easy way to build rapport.
One of the most important pieces of research I did was to think about questions I wanted to ask. I knew that in this type of conference with 300+ people, there were going to be a lot of random introductions and interactions. I figured that if I had some questions in my back pocket, I could avoid awkward silences or the forced conversations that you feel you are obligated to have, and also show interest in each person. These questions got the conversation started and then it was my job to listen and follow up with a more specific question to show I genuinely cared.
Researching was a huge reason I was so prepared for the conference, but the final trick I’ll share to help you prepare is to do outreach in the time leading up to the conference.
As I was developing my plan and conducting research to best help me prepare for the conference, I spent a lot of time doing outreach. I wanted to meet people in advance to the conference so that I knew I would have a few people to speak with and connect with.
My outreach just like my research came with a plan. I started by reaching out to friends in the industry to hear about their past experiences and if there were people I should contact and make sure to meet.
I reached out to several people who had attended the conference in the past to learn more about their experiences and hear what they had to say. It’s amazing because there was one person I reached out who then told me to reach out to someone else who told me to reach out to someone else and boom, the snowball was rolling.
By the time I arrived at the conference I had a good handful of people that I was planning on meeting for the first time. Since we had already spoken, we were on alert for each other and I knew the initial introduction would be smooth sailing.
I think outreach is a huge component because it allows you to gather information and start building your relationships so that when you arrive you can feel more comfortable. This is vital to your success because the more information you have, the better questions you can ask and the more specific actions you can take to maximize your time at the conference.
I’m sure if you’ve read up to this point, you’re thinking that this is a lot of work just for one conference… and it is. It’s a lot of work but if you really want to build meaningful relationships, this is what it takes.
To me, preparing for a conference or a networking event is crucial to your definition of success because it helps set the stage for your experience. It helps build connections and rapport in advance, introduces you to valuable information that you can use to connect with people, and if you are presenting, it gives you a chance to exceed expectations and make a splash!
In my next piece I will be sharing a few tricks on how to maximize your time at the conference so you can put all your preparation and your plan in action and see the results you want to see.