We hope to see you in Chicago next month at our SuperConference. Most inside counsel attend for program content and CLE, but I encourage you to also maximize the peer-to-peer network-building potential of SuperConference. For attendees who may be in job search mode, or if you are a private law firm attendee, then networking itself is your primary agenda.
Here's the thing. No one wants to become "that guy," the one who stalks panelists, or who turns Q&A time into a speechmaking opportunity. We don't want you to be "that guy," either. So please consider the following suggestions for effective conference networking. Even if you are a veteran of the conference scene and think you already know all there is to know about networking, I encourage you to keep reading. You may find a helpful new tip here.
During the interactive or Q&A portions of the session, here are your don'ts and do's: Don't make a speech to show everyone in the room that you are smart and know something interesting about the topic. Everyone in the room is smart, and your point is probably not as interesting or enlightening as you think. Do ask an engaging question. The panelists have thought a great deal about the topic at hand, they care about it, and they take it seriously. Otherwise, they would not have made the conference commitment. A short but engaging question will catch the panel's attention, and give them an opportunity to go off-script a bit. A good speaker who likes your question will probably look you in the eye at first during her reply. You have now laid the groundwork for the post-session introduction.
While some speakers rush off after a session, most are courteous and stick around for a bit. Even frequent panelists enjoy a little adrenaline rush from public speaking, and afterwards they may be in a pretty good mood. The challenge is that you will be one of several audience members lining up for the hand shake and introduction. Don't be the eager beaver who rushes up first. Wait for the speaker to finish with the people who have no clue how to network. Be the patient person with the last voice, a calm and casual voice. Introduce yourself, and simply thank the speaker for addressing your question. She will remember your question and may engage you in some discussion. But don't force conversation. And don't start talking about yourself.
If you are winging this conversation, you will simply embarrass yourself. Before the conference, identify challenges facing Ms. Big's company, identify any commonality in your backgrounds, and identify something you admire about Ms. Big's company or, better yet, something Ms. Big has accomplished in her career. Then you will be prepared for a short or long (long being five minutes) conversation with Ms. Big.
Focus everything on her. For example: "I admire how you came in after a backdating scandal and turned Acme Co. into a model for implementing compliance processes." Have two or three such "intro salvos," as I call them, in mind. Then, let the conversation take its natural course and listen carefully to anything Ms. Big says. Whether she is truly engaged in this conversation or just being polite, she will ask the polite question, "Where are you from?" or "Tell me about yourself."