A former research scientist friend of mine goes to conferences as a regular part of her job. She is Business Development Director for a small and growing company that deals directly with major pharmaceuticals.
At one particular conference in Milan she took a break from the presentations in the conference hall and walked outside for a break. She came across another woman whose face dropped when my friend showed up. My friend asked her what she did and it transpired she was a senior executive at Pfizer.
My friend had the feeling this woman had had enough people trying to sell her their research or products. She had the tact and good sense not to talk AT ALL about her work. Instead, she asked whether she’d been to Milan before and whether she was taking any time off after the conference to do sightseeing. The other woman looked hugely relieved to have a normal conversation and was delighted to share her plans with my friend. After a thoroughly enjoyable half hour together, the other woman gave my friend her card and contact details and then my friend connected with her on LinkedIn.
The casual conversation is the most powerfully persuasive. The reason you attend the conference may be because you want to persuade others of your point of view or get them to cite you, collaborate with or even employ you. The only way, and I do mean the only way to do that is if you form a relationship with them first. Effective networking is the introduction to a relationship, not the end in itself. Lasting relationships can and do begin over a pint in the bar after the day’s events or in the queue for coffee at the break.
To influence people positively, they need to know, like and trust you. To do that you need to be genuinely interested in them. As my friend did, ask the obvious question. It doesn’t have to be controversial or even intelligent – “It’s taking a while to be served, isn’t it?” ,”The last speaker was excellent, wasn’t he/she?” or even “What are you doing here?” You may not know who this person is and you definitely won’t know who they know. Listen to their answer. Don’t expect anything. Cultivate your curiosity. Your goal is to see whether you can be of help to them. According to Robert Cialdini, Regent’s Professor of Psychology and Marketing (Influence: Science And Practice), the more you do favours for others, the more they want to help you. This could be the beginning of a fruitful association for both of you.
Never, ever neglect the power of the casual conversation.