Networking: Something had to be done to turn around this trip that started off so promising and went downhill in a hurry
Conference goals crushed in first day
I arrived at my first National Speaker's Association (NSA) conference filled with enthusiasm.
ALLISON GRAHAM - Getting Connected
There I was in the 118 degree (Farenheit) heat of Phoenix, Ariz., at a conference with 1,300 people of whom I knew only a handful of the 60 Canadians in attendance.
I felt inspirationally on fire as I walked through the hallways, nodding hello to all of the friendly, just-arrived faces with conference bands around their necks.
First stop was the first-timers welcome reception. This proved to be extremely valuable as three of the people who I met at that table turned out to be solid contacts.
Attending this session is defin- itely recommended, even if you're a veteran of the conference. It's a great place to meet new people, help some of the newbies and learn insight into what is happening at the conference.
My story was off to a great start. Add this obviously friendly atmosphere to all of the preparation work discussed in my last column and I thought: Part 2 of my before, during and after series on making conventions worthwhile would be a breeze.
Unfortunately, 24 hours into the conference, there was no breeze to be found.
I'd had three goals in mind:
Connect with the author who inspired my work.
Find doable tips that would take my speaking and training business to the next level.
Witness others networking to share stories in this column.
But the best I had managed was some not-so-great stories toward goal No. 3.
The first night there was entertainment, but being entertained was not one of my goals, so I missed the point.
The next morning, as speaker after speaker took to the stage, people quickly settled into their own comfort zones and I started to feel like a stranger in a sea of people. It dawned on me that this is the feeling so many people experience when they attend events where they don't know anyone.
What struck me the most as I watched people form their cliques was that most were so focused on their own all-about-me worlds with their four or five friends that they completely forgot the importance of networking at conferences.
I can see why people find this kind of environment very intimidating. Normally, I would just put a smile on my face and meet some people, but I just didn't have it in me.
My first goal had been crushed. Despite committing to a coffee when I contacted him before the conference, the author who I had waited years to meet, scribbled something illegible in the front of his newly released book and made me feel about an inch high as he started talking to someone else.
My second goal wasn't looking too promising, either. The first two break-out sessions I attended didn't provide me with any real answers that would contribute to expanding my business, so I was quite disappointed.
Knowing this wouldn't make for a particularly inspirational column series, I did what any frustrated columnist with a not-so-great story would do. I headed to the pool and floated around for a few hours.
Not exactly Networking 101, but it was what I needed to put the conference enthusiasm back into perspective.
That night when I went to sleep, I decided I had two choices: Either float through the conference (or the pool) and return home with an unsuccessful story to share; or change the circumstances and make it happen.
In next week's column, I'll share how I turned my not-so-great experience around to ensure my attendance was a worthwhile investment.
-- Allison Graham is a business networking speaker and author of Business Cards to Business Relationships: Building the Ultimate Network. To submit your networking question or to contact Allison, visit her blog at lfpress.com or her website, www.elevatebiz.ca.