By Stacia Wilbeck, Guest Contributor
I have been a member of SAME since 2013, first as an employee of an engineering company and now as an entrepreneur starting my own marketing consulting firm geared towards those in the A/E/C industry.
Having attended the SAME Federal Small Business Conference and other small business events for 10 years now, I would like to share some tips to fellow entrepreneurs and small business representatives—offering a quick perspective on how to make conferences more valuable and engaging experiences.
Conversations are Valuable
The most interesting moments come during informal interactions with other attendees. The lectures and sessions can provide new ideas, but they are mostly one-directional in terms of who is doing the talking and who is doing the listening. The unique, personal, and insightful conversations you have with other people happen outside of sessions. There will be many opportunities to meet people. Push through any social hesitations and have fun learning from others!
Build a Plan
Before the event, take the schedule and mark anything that you’re attracted to. Circle the sessions that look interesting, and if two or more occur simultaneously, flag the one you want to go to first. Don’t be afraid to leave for the other session if it turns out you picked one that wasn’t the right fit for you.
Organized Social Events
Try to have met enough people in the sessions throughout the day so that you can wander around at the evening networking events and say hi to people you have already met. This should ease any social anxiety, as you’ll be able to politely join conversations and meet more people this way.
Make your Own Gatherings
Everyone wants to socialize, but few are willing to take the lead. It’s not hard though! Nearly everyone needs to eat and wants to make new friends over drinks; they just need an invite or a nudge. When the last session of the day begins, everyone is thinking about what they’re going to do later. Try to set yourself up with a plan early in the day; ask people you meet in sessions what their plans are. Often, they’ll say that don’t have any, which is your ticket to make some.
Pro tip: tell everyone you connect with during the day to simply meet at 6 p.m. at the main hotel lobby (or preferably the lobby bar). It’s an easy plan, easy to remember, and low commitment. Then once you have a group, decide on a nearby restaurant and go. People will appreciate you taking the lead, and this approach really doesn’t require much effort.
Worst case: you are in the bar alone. But odds are high that other attendees from the event will be there, and if you introduce yourself, you can likely join up with them.
One of the reasons to attend conferences is to recruit for open positions at your firm. This is highly valuable as you grow your small business. Networking throughout the Exhibit Hall and meeting people in social settings is the best way to survey for talent.
Ask Lots of Questions
If you don’t make your experiences engaging for yourself, you are guaranteed to be uninterested. Talk to speakers, authors, exhibitors, the person sitting next to you. Ask for recommendations for books, websites, or business tips. These things will help you grow personally and professionally, while simultaneously building relationships. In general, most people enjoy sharing their expertise with others.
I wish you all the best at the 2018 SAME Federal Small Business Conference for the A/E/C Industry in New Orleans, Oct. 31-Nov.2, as you grow as an entrepreneur or a small business!