The other day one of my friends called me up in a bit of panic. She was attending a seminar on the Plastics Industry in India as a part of her new job. She was thoroughly enjoying dozing through the day in her chair at the back. But she was dreading lunch hour when she was supposed to ‘network’ with people, the main purpose of her having attended the conference. Having worked in a long series of jobs not involving such public networking, she was, understandably, panicking.
Having spent more than six years in client facing roles, I have managed to pick up quite a few tips on attending such conferences and am glad to be able to share it with all my friends who may be stuck in seminars on the Plastics Industry in India in the future.
1. Be there. The main purpose of a seminar is to network and every veteran knows this. Come lunch hour, and before you can say ‘Shall we have lunch?’ you will see the cards flying thick and fast. To make use of this, all you need to do is look confident and position yourself in the busiest spot in the area (Not the food table. People are usually focused and aggressive around there). As my friend discovered, ‘they are dropping cards like confetti’
2. Time it. The best time to network is the pre-conference cocktail. People are at a loose end because the event has not yet started and if you just spend your time standing alone nursing a drink you will look like an alcoholic. On the other hand if you stand with someone else who is also nursing a drink, you will look like an industry professional. The same holds true for the pre-conference coffee in case of day-time seminars
3. Circulate. This is not as tough as it sounds. Just listen to one of the world’s silliest jokes from a perfect stranger trying to make polite conversation, and your survival instincts will automatically kick in and you make a move.
4. Catch them alone. Every conference will have at least three or four people who have turned up by themselves in a genuine effort to follow the trends in the Plastics Industry and are uncomfortable with the socializing part. Yet secretly, in order not to be branded an alcoholic (refer point 2) or a gourmand (modification of point 2), they would like someone to talk to. You may or may not find them useful in the course of your professional life but at that point in time when your boss turns around to check on how you are doing, instead of looking like a lost kid you can confidently give that quick smile that says ‘Later. I am busy talking to this guy who will single handedly give us USD 100 M of future business’
5. Stupid talk is OK. Most people are intimidated by the fact that when they actually do enter into a conversation with a stranger they may reveal the fact that they are not Nobel-prize material. Veterans will tell you that rarely do the conversations go beyond the score of the cricket match going on currently or the general inefficiency of the organiser in managing time. Then someone will crack a bad joke and everyone goes ‘har har har’ and exchanges cards and you move on (Point 3 above)
If nothing works and it is becoming obvious that the room has conspired to make you stand out like a miserable and boring loser then it is time to use your cell phone. Whip out your cell phone and have a brisk, solemn-looking conversation on it that signals to people around you that you are checking the London markets to see how freight prices have moved and whether it is time to hedge. You may not have collected visiting cards at the end of it but at least you look like you are too busy managing your current life to be bothered with getting to know a pathetic bunch of half-wits who clearly have no other business other than cracking jokes on cricket. Then put off phone with a sweeping click, smile smugly and exit into the bathroom where you can burst into tears undisturbed.