William Jefferson, global external relations director at Havas Sports & Entertainment, organiser of the Global Sports Forum Barcelona since 2009, explains how you can maximise networking efforts at sports conferences.
Tip 1: Pre-conference preparation
Pre-conference preparation is important in order to maximise your time. You will have far less than you think.
"Most conferences have a networking tool that will allow you to schedule meetings in advance," Jefferson says. "Use it! If there is someone you want to meet who is not on the tool (which is the case for many speakers), request their details from the conference organiser. That's what you’re paying for to attend!"
Tip 2: Get your networking toolkit ready
Take time to prepare your networking toolkit before going to all sports conferences.
"Your networking toolkit includes items such as business cards, a small notebook that fits in your jacket pocket, an iPad and a telephone that is fully charged," Jefferson says. "Dress professionally, but in a manner that fits the event and your personality. I'm a wee bit old school and feel that even if your hair is spiked, your clothes are wrinkled or your cologne is too strong you must always have impeccable shoes! Freshly shined dress shoes or cool sneakers."
Tip 3: Research your targets
Prioritise your networking target list and research them. First and foremost, it's a sign of respect. Secondly, it helps you to focus on them and not what you want to tell them. Thirdly, it helps lay the groundwork towards developing a conversation.
"LinkedIn profiles, blogs, Twitter accounts, company and industry websites, books or papers written by them. Get more details about their professional background and current projects," Jefferson says. "Don't forget their personal interests! You need to know enough to have a conversation which will allow you to ask good questions, discuss a common passion, understand their needs, and maybe even become a resource down the road. At any rate, it will make you feel far less nervous and act more genuine. Another thing to keep in mind is that you can't meet everyone. Be realistic and do your best to meet your most important targets, which could be four or five out of a list of 25."
Tip 4: Follow-up right away
Make sure you re-establish contact within 48 hours following the conference via e-mail or LinkedIn. Aim to cultivate a conversation, not build a relationship overnight.
"I always send short, personalised emails to the people I meet right after the conference, and this is my motto for any social/professional situation," Jefferson says. "It mustn't be long and could look something like: 'It was nice to meet you at... Just want to make sure that we're connected. It was good to talk to you about... (insert your memorable topic)'. That's it! Don't worry if you don't have an immediate response. Your targets are busy people receiving hundreds of e-mails every day of the year. But they have been where you are and will often respond if you make it easy for them. Sometimes you get lucky and strike gold immediately. However, the major percentage of your contacts will require a long-term strategy."
Tip 5: Post-conference reporting
There are two main reasons to attend a conference. Firstly, to network with the speakers and delegates. Secondly, to obtain content and learn from the conference sessions.
"It is very important to make a full report of your conference," Jefferson says. "Note as many details as you can about contacts made, the conference content and potential next steps. Share the information with your managers, colleagues and clients (as appropriate). Content is king! Good content should be studied and shared. Attending conferences is expensive and you should return to the office with more than just business cards. Last but not least, reporting gives value to your work with your management and peers. It's always useful and valuable to demonstrate who you met, what you learned and how your company may capitalise/benefit from your ardent work post-conference."
Top Tip: Be memorable
Jefferson adds: "Going to conferences is like speed-dating. Most of the time, you will only have a couple of minutes with each person, so try to make it memorable for them. Leave them with something they will remember you by when you follow-up. The speakers and delegates on your target list are highly solicited people. You are likely to dispose of a small window of opportunity to say something relevant. When you talk about what you do, keep it simple and avoid jargon. Ditch the elevator speech, everybody has one. Don't monopolise their time. Get in and get out. Take notes immediately after your conversation because you'd be surprised how easy and quickly you can forget details. You can write it down on their business card right after to help you remember. This will come in handy when you follow up."
Havas Sports & Entertainment is the global brand engagement network of advertising and communications services group Havas.