Have I ever told you I hated going to events and conferences? I only went if I was speaking, and I always tried to arrange my presentation so it was before the cocktail party.

Sometimes that worked, sometimes it didn’t. I remember when I was asked to speak at a Maryland Bar Association Annual Meeting held during the summer on the Eastern Shore. I arrived on Friday night, just in time for the cocktail party. I didn’t know any of the lawyers, so I stood with my diet coke in one hand and a vegetable plate in the other. After I finished my diet coke, I left and went to my room.

You might ask:

“Why didn’t you strike up a conversation with anyone?”

I never liked just striking up conversations with people I didn’t know. In this case, the lawyers were catching up with their friends from other parts of the state. What could I add to their conversation? Not much.

My presentation the next morning was at 8:00 AM. When I started my presentation only five people were in the audience. They told me the lawyers stay out late after the cocktail party. When I finished, there were at least 10 lawyers in the audience.

In 2019, you will likely attend one or more conferences. Like me, speaking at the Maryland Bar Association Annual Meeting, you may not know anyone at the conference. Sounds daunting, doesn’t it?

Eric Pruitt is a Birmingham, Alabama lawyer I coached 11 years ago. When I first met Eric he told me he would be attending an industry conference and asked if I had any ideas for him. I gave him some and told him to read chapters from Keith Ferrazzi’s book: Never Eat Alone. Eric did and it changed how he approached industry conferences. Here are some of Eric’s thoughts that he shared with me when I was coaching him.

Keith Farrazzi has 15 Tips for Being a Conference Commando. Some of it sounds over the top, or “dorky”, however, I decided to look at his tips with an open mind and see how I could apply his concepts as a lawyer. I found some great ideas. Here are a few of the things I’ve started doing:

  1. Develop a plan. Work to identify people you want to meet, schedule lunches/dinners/drinks/ etc. . . before the meeting. I’m attending the CMSA Annual Meeting in NY next month and have worked to schedule these events in advance and am working on identifying the “celebrity status” (people of importance in the organization – not real celebs) that I want to meet while I’m there.
  2. Work on building relationships with people, not seeing how many people I can meet and give a business card to. Focus on the person I’m talking to, don’t let my eyes wander and attempt to find the next target.
  3. Take notes on the people I meet and follow up quickly with a hand written note. Use the notes so I can make a personal connection in my follow up correspondence.
  4. Have a “what can I do for this person” attitude instead of “how can I do legal work for this person”. Helping others is a great way to build a network.
  5. If it is an industry organization that you want to become more involved in, find a non-threatening way to volunteer for tasks at the meeting. This can provide opportunities to find out about special invitation events, get to know leaders, etc. . .

These are just some quick comments. The book is packed with great insight.

What can you learn from Eric’s ideas and actually use at the next event you attend?