I observed that super-connectors also seemed to be lightening fast at follow-up.” says Lorraine Sanders

By Lorraine Sanders (Founder & Podcast Host, Spirit of 608)

Heading to a conference is always something of a gamble – all the more so when it’s in Las Vegas, as was the case with the recent Shoptalk event that drew more than 300 CEOs and nearly three thousand attendees into the desert for a four-day deep-dive into the future of retail. Yes, you go for the impressive speaker lineup, the promise of learning as your industry’s top experts share the latest information from their highly focused pockets of the universe, the opportunity to demo a product or service to new audiences and maybe a speaking role or a partnership that raises your company’s visibility.

But even when thousands of smart people converge and spend days sharing nuggets of wisdom during panels and breakout sessions, the real reason it was worth it to pack up and go is always far simpler than, say, the future of fashion tech or the viability of new rental retail models. It’s the people you meet, the conversations you have in small groups and the connections you create and strengthen that yield the real value.

It’s easy to know that, but making those connections happen? That’s the lightening in a jar. Amid packed days that started with sunrise yoga (that I, ahem, failed to attend) and featured a mix of keynotes with such founders as Katia Beauchamp of Birchbox and Stitch Fix’s Katrina Lake and panels on everything from virtual and augmented reality in retail to the future of wearables, I observed not only what’s ahead for fashion tech, but a number of habits successful female entrepreneurs used time and again to strengthen their networks and get the most human value out of their conference time.

On your next conference adventure, increase your chances of making the connections you want when you:

Embrace early. As someone who feels more comfortable sailing into events when they’re already in full-swing, it struck me that time and time again, really connected female entrepreneurs made a habit of showing up slightly before or right at the event’s official start time. In the few extra minutes before a panel, they used the time to chat with people sitting nearby or at their table while capitalizing on the anticipatory energy that’s typically present before an event, but fades as soon as it’s done. At cocktail parties and happy hour events, arriving within the first 10 minutes – something I often feel awkward doing – left them with time to mingle with the hosts and their core teams before the rest of the bodies started to stream in. While so many opt for fashionably late, a willingness to embrace early gave these entrepreneurs a better chance to connect and better access to those they wanted to meet.

Repeat yourself. I met one female executive the first day of the conference through a mutual acquaintance, and she introduced herself with a quick intro about who she was and what she did. Her delivery was natural, and I remembered what she said. The next day, I ran into her a second time, and I listened as she introduced herself to another person in the exact same way. Once again, the delivery was natural. It didn’t sound canned or like an elevator pitch. And that’s because it wasn’t. Instead of forcing herself to deliver a rehearsed line time and time again, she was simply telling people who she was and what she did the same way, over and over. At a time when so much of marketing is tied to consistency across online and traditional marketing channels, it’s important to remember that this consistency should extend to the way you talk about yourself as well. People will remember you, and your message will travel more easily than it would otherwise.

Make an announcement. Nearly 100 companies made official announcements at Shoptalk (many of which are possible to hunt down by viewing the official Twitter wall), and that meant increased buzz and, in some cases, media coverage by the journalists covering the event. But making an announcement also meant this: something to talk about. For some of us, digging up conversation starters and talking points to trot out during networking opportunities is more challenging than getting up on a stage to speak to a crowded room (at least in that case, you know what you’re going to say). Having a specific piece of news, company milestone or new initiative that you’re excited to share with others – whether through the event’s official channels or via your own social media and outreach efforts – put the women I talked to during this recent event on easy conversational footing. Not only did they have something that immediately drew interest, but they were excited to share the news. In many ways, it was as if prepping to share a single piece of news about their company put them in outreach mode for the entire conference. Ultimately, it was not the news itself, but their upbeat mindset around announcing it and then sharing it with confidence that led to new connections. 

Create a reason for others to gather. Whether it’s an organized social gathering with a guest list or an impromptu off-site dinner or a mid-morning coffee meetup for a special interest group, organizing a way for other people to get together not only positively impacts your connections, but also builds them among people in your network. The people you invite will remember your good will. There’s no better way to strengthen a network than to make its connections stronger.

Recommend the hell out of others you respect. So much of the world revolves around recommendations and personal stamps of approval. The women I watched who had deep networks filled with mutual respect, trust and ongoing interaction also very often happened to be women in business who shared the work of others when they saw a good fit. That’s not to say they acted like impromptu PR people for their friends, but rather that they made a point to spread the word about others’ work they admired when – and only when – they saw a good fit. They were careful not to recommend another person or company unless it was relevant to the party of the receiving end of the recommendation. And that’s really important: not only were they strengthening connections by helping those already solidly in their network, they were also building new connections by truly offering something of value exactly at the time it was needed.

Fast follow up. Last but not least, I observed that super-connectors also seemed to be lightening fast at follow-up. Instead of stashing a stack of business cards and waiting until there was down time and headspace to compose a thoughtful email after the conference ended, they carved out valuable time during the event to quickly shoot a one-line email or a simple text. By doing this, they caught the people they met at the right time and were able to leverage fellow attendees’ heightened interest in building new connections well before everyone headed to the airport, returned to daily tasks and became distracted with more pressing projects.

Photo by Erica Marquez (@EricaMrqz)

About the guest blogger: Lorraine Sanders is a longtime fashion business journalist and the founder of the Spirit of 608 podcast featuring badass women building businesses at the intersection of fashion, entrepreneurship, sustainability and tech. Find the show and listen on iTunes or Stitcher Radio. Follow her on Twitter at @lorrainesanders and @spiritof608.