I was recently asked about an issue many of us in the SEO industry face:
“When you’re attending a conference where you’ll be meeting peers, clients and prospective clients, how do you avoid awkward silence?”
This is obviously a good question in and of itself, but it got me thinking about a larger issue search professionals often face: how people can make the most of their meetups and time together.
Having attended SEO conferences since 2006, I’ve learned some strategies to use before and during conferences to help maximize my time while I’m there. Some of these strategies apply to meeting with peers, others to clients and prospective clients, and some to both. Whether you’re attending your first conference or just looking to improve your game, I hope you will find this advice useful.
The initial question about how to avoid an awkward silence is what got me thinking of this topic, as it implies that the person posing the question wasn’t going into the conference prepared.
Generally, you’ll know in advance if clients and key industry peers will be attending the conference, so don’t wait until you’re there to figure out how to talk to them and what to talk to them about. Instead, prepare in advance via social media.
Now, let me be clear: I’m not suggesting that you friend people on Facebook if they don’t know you. However, some fairly simple research on their public posts, Twitter stream and LinkedIn profiles will likely produce some key information such as:
- What’s the person’s work history?
- What subjects do they talk most about?
- What non-work topics are they interested in? (This is key!)
- Are they married and do they have kids?
- And more.
You get where I’m going. Armed with an array of information on the people you’re meeting, there will be no awkward silence. Furthermore, you’ll have an opportunity to connect with them on a human level. I am reminded often of two quotes from the great Dale Carnegie:
“The royal road to a man’s heart is to talk to him about the things he treasures most.”
“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.”
Both of these are true. Yes, that person probably wants to talk shop with you, but they’ve got plenty of people doing that. The difference will come in the non-shop talk. Let’s say you’re talking to a prospective client; they will likely be talking to a half-dozen other people with offerings like yours. The difference will come in discussing their favorite sports team, a movie they’ve seen, or — one that I’ve found works well — a person they’re inspired by (like Dale Carnegie!).
Connect in advance
We talked above about using social media as a data-gathering tool, but it obviously is much more than that. Connecting with people you want to meet on social prior to an event is a valuable introduction. LinkedIn is an obvious go-to; Facebook is discouraged unless you actually have met. Twitter I’ve found to be probably the easiest way to engage others, as it’s a simple communication point that by its nature discourages pitching. Connect on LinkedIn to be sure, but follow them on Twitter, read their posts and comment when applicable.
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