If you are enduring a Winter Blast, Arctic Freeze or Winter Storm then head on down to Houston for a 2-day break from the bitter cold. It’s time to network, brainstorm, and connect at TAPIA’s 2014 Spring Conference, February 26-27, at the Hilton Houston North.

Having attended dozens of conferences over the last decade I have experienced epic fails and missed opportunities. In my early days, I used to pass on the networking sessions and head straight to the general sessions to avoid the discomfort of meeting new people. I also spent plenty of time shackled to people that I already knew so it ended up feeling like camp instead of a conference. After a few bad conferences where I only came away with sore feet and a swag bag full of vendor goodies, I thought I needed to figure out some ways to help me make conferences worthwhile. I figured out a method to the conference madness that I have put into action and seen positive results.

I’ve found that it’s best to have a fair and balanced approach to making the conferences work for you and not become a dreadful monkey that jumps on your back every year. So, here are 5 tips that may help you make the Net Work at this year’s TAPIA Spring Conference:

1. Register for the conference. Yes, it may sound rudimentary but you have to register to get the full benefits of the conference. The conferences work better when the meeting planners know who’s attending. You’ll have access to registration materials, networking sessions and a chance to ask questions of panelists and speakers. I remember attending the PA 101 course at the TAPIA conference in Dallas when I first started at Merlin Law Group. I was amazed at how much I was able to learn during the session and really appreciated the chance to hear the feedback given by the presenter, Clay Morrison.

2. Bring a ton of updated business cards. This is the best way to be remembered after a conference. I make it a practice to exchange business cards after I make a great connection. If I found the connection to be a bit rushed or interrupted, it’s even more important to exchange cards. A brief connection can lead to a strong bond with the proper follow up. It sounds corny but it’s worked for me. Emphasis is on updated. It helps if your business card has your updated email address and phone number. I have been guilty of grabbing a pen and writing my “new contact info” on cards. It tends to stop the flow of the exchange and makes me feel a little less prepared.

In a conference setting people are doing tons of exchanges. I like to write a little something about the person that gives me his/her card on the back so I can remember who they are. If I connect with someone that ran out of cards, I make it very simple. I just take a pic of them wearing their badge and save it to the contacts in my phone. Don’t believe me? Check the pic of Michael Whitten of American Building Contractors, Inc. —Yep, I did it.

Michael Whitten

3. Check out the conference registered attendee list before you go. That way you can see if some of your old buddies are going to be there. It makes me much more comfortable when I see familiar faces. Also check the list for attendees that you would like to meet. This is what I call the “hit list.” If there is someone you want to meet and do business with in the future, the conference is the best place to find them. It’s even better if you end up in the same sessions because you’re interested in the same information and that brings common ground.

4. Wear your name tag. As fundamental as it seems, name tags can be the bane of your existence (if it keeps falling off) or your key to new business. Your name tag is like instant advertisement. It’s sort of like you’re a walking billboard. You might be on someone else’s networking “hit-list” and it would be great if they can make their own introduction. Name tags also help people identify you and the firm you represent which should make it easier for you to hit your targets as well. If you attended NAPIA in San Antonio last year, you may have remembered me introducing myself as Chip Merlin during vendor presentations. It was great to be Chip for the rest of the conference, but it helped that I wore my name tag so people wouldn’t be confused. Also, if you have a name like mine – people need to see it written out to get the pronunciation. Of course, I have been known to take it a bit far and wear my name tag out to dinner, accidentally.

5. Lastly, after the conference is over, do a quick self- assessment. I don’t always pass with flying colors, but here’s my test:

  • “Did I learn anything new?”
  • “Did I hit my networking targets?”
  • “Did I get his/her business card?”
  • “Will they remember meeting me?”
  • “Did I plan a follow up meeting?”
  • “Did I make the NET-Work?”

If I leave a conference and do a self-assessment where all of my answers are “Yes” then I know I had a successful conference. If I get at least 4 out of 6 I feel pretty good. It’s been a while since I got all NOs so I take that as a bit of growth.

I hope my tips help you get ready for making connections at this year’s TAPIA Spring Conference. I have about 10 more tips, so follow-up with me at the conference and I’ll tell you all about them. See you in Houston!