Paul Boross, The Pitch Doctor, answers questions on how to use one’s time more effectively at a networking conference.
Q: My company, an outsourced manufacturing services provider, is taking part in a networking conference which I’ve been asked to attend. It comprises a number of short meetings with companies we want to meet with, and I’m worried that the time available is nowhere near enough to tell them about our services and make the right impression. How can I approach this differently?
A: This is becoming an increasingly common problem, not only because of the prevalence of these kinds of events, but also because we’re all becoming time-poor, and who wants to sit through a two hour sales presentation any more? I remember when corporate slide packs used to include photographs of the corporate offices, organisation charts and other, similarly important information that I’m sure had the audience begging for more.
If you start from what you want to say and try to cram that into the time available, the problem you have is that you don’t necessarily know which parts to leave out, and you don’t want to risk missing out something important. That of course begs the question, how do you know what is important?
You could research each company you’re meeting and prepare a unique presentation for each one. That would be an excellent start, and if you haven’t researched the companies and individuals attending the conference, then you are missing a very important opportunity. Yet this still isn’t the ideal way to address the question.
To find the answer, we have to put ourselves in the minds of the audience. Imagine yourself as a customer at the event. You are rushed from one meeting to another, each one a barrage of facts, figures, features, benefits, slides, videos and even photos of corporate offices. How many pitches do you need to sit through before you can no longer remember who said what and which products go with which logos? In a very short space of time, the customers will be ‘pitch blind’. To get through that fog, you need to do something different.
Leave your laptop and brochures behind. Take only business cards, a notepad and pen. When you sit down at the start of each meeting, ask one simple question and then shut up, listen, and take notes. That simple question is as follows: “What can we talk about in this next half hour that will make the whole conference worthwhile for you?”
All you need to do is ensure that the following conversation delivers against the answer to that question. As soon as the meeting finishes, write down the three most important points you discussed, and as soon as you get back to the office, place those three points in a follow up letter that you have already written the template for.
Remember, the purpose of a meeting or event like this is not to sell. It is to make a connection. Your job is then to follow up on that connection and develop it into a relationship.
Ebook formats are also available.
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