By Jordan Schwartz
The most important sessions at a conference are not given in meeting rooms. In fact, they’re not listed in the program.
With so much educational content online, why are you packing a toothbrush, leaving your family for five days, and eating conference center food?
It’s the people, stupid.
For most people, the top reason they attend a conference is to build relationships. And that doesn’t happen in the sessions, it happens in the hallway. It’s the Hallway Track.
Conference organizers understand this, and that’s why they do their best to facilitate interaction and networking for attendees. But working the Hallway Track can be tough: insiders pal up to their old buddies, cliques melt into the shadows for private conversations. So how do you break in?
Here are tips to get you started:
- Make Your Hit List: Take a moment to jot down the names of people you would like to meet. Now, figure out what they look like. If your event has a conference community, that’s a good place to get started. Otherwise, try punching their names into LinkedIn.
- Session Serendipity: Which sessions are people from your hit list likely to attend? Maybe you should attend those, too. And get there early!
- Profile Me: A pre-conference online community is the secret sauce to a networking strategy, so pay close attention to your profile. Choose a picture that will help people recognize you, not a tiny one with your family. When completing your bio, avoid salesy pitches, but be sure to include key words that someone looking for you might use in a search.
- Connect Early: The beauty of a pre-conference online community is that it allows connections to be made and discussions to take place without the large crowds and gatekeepers some attendees have at conference. So start conversations before the event starts, either individually, or as a group.
- Easy, Tiger: Avoid direct sales pitches (e.g., “I would like to talk to you about buying my product”)! It can be as big a turnoff at a conference as it is in a singles bar. Instead, offer insight or knowledge, or better yet, ask a question or pay a compliment. Building relationships takes time and patience. Once you’ve made a connection online, don’t be too shy to suggest a meet-up. It’s all a question of timing.
- Feed The Ego System: Reference people you want to meet on social media. Quote them, mention their names, write a review of their book or podcast. People remember compliments and the person who issued them.
You’ve done your homework, you’ve made it to the show, you’ve got your best duds on and a mint in your mouth. It’s game time.
Attending the Hallway Track
- Hallway Patrol: If you want to be part of the Hallway Track and get the most from the in-between session conversation, you must be present in the hallway. Walking through with your head stuck in your phone or tablet checking emails will not yield results.
- Play Hooky: No interesting sessions in a time slot? Don’t feel obligated to sit in a session that doesn’t apply to your goals for the conference. Head to the Hallway Track and start a conversation!
- Hallways Anywhere: The hallway doesn’t end where the hall ends. Elevators, hotel bars, shuttles even the airport can all be venues for the hallway track. Even the session rooms before and after sessions can be great spots for connecting.
- Know Your Lines: If you’re nervous about how to get conversations started, go for open-ended questions that stay positive. Good questions: “What was your favorite session?” or “What are you most looking forward to?” Bad questions: “Hot enough for you?” or “Would you like to buy my product?”
Now, get a good night’s sleep and get out there!