Effectively Networking with a Conference Speaker

A woman giving a presentation in front of a crowd
“MozCon Day 2 – 2013” by Thos Ballantyne is licensed under CC BY 4.0

You just watched an amazing presentation by a speaker and you want to discuss their presentation, or something else, in further detail with them. Based on my experiences as both a speaker and a fellow presentation attendee, here is the best way to effectively approach a conference speaker for networking:


  1. Approach the speaker by standing a few feet away but obviously waiting for them, wait patiently for them to acknowledge you.
  2. Approach
  3. Shake their hand while introducing yourself
  4. Give them your short (1 minute) compelling reason you two should speak further at a later date. Examples:
    1. That was a great presentation! I have a couple of follow-up questions related to what you said about x. I’d like to schedule a time with you to discuss.
    2. I’m really interested in what you said about small business marketing and I’d like to discuss how I’ve used similar techniques successfully. I’d like to set-up a time with you to discuss.
    3. My company is doing something very similar to your organization and I think we could be great partners.
  5. Let them know you will be following-up via email to schedule a time to speak with them. Most speakers will hand you a business card at this time, but if they don’t and you think it’s going to be hard to find that information on your own, ask for one.
  6. Follow-up within a few days.

Common errors:

  • Don’t monopolize the speaker’s time. Give your 1 minute compelling reason to speak to them further. No more. If you try to ask any in-depth questions you have then or try to have an in-depth discussion right then, you’ll risk leaving a bad impression with not only the speaker, but other conference attendees who would also like the opportunity to say something (I’ve been behind a few of you in line).
  • Be ready with your compelling reason. Often, someone will approach a speaker without a cohesive thought on what they’d like to discuss. This takes up time and also can leave a bad impression.
  • Don’t sell your product. This is what the follow-up call is for. See the example above on how to pre-sell your product or service by saying you’d make a great partnership.

What advice would you add? What works best for you?

Top 5 reasons to join Rotary

Yesterday, I had the honor of speaking to a group of college students about professional networking. As part of that presentation, I highly recommended joining Rotary or Rotaract (for students).

Here are my top five reasons to join Rotary:

  1. Increased knowledge of the community and current issues. The majority of Rotary clubs have a guest speaker each week. The topics vary widely, so you get a wide variety of information. We all have busy lives and there are topics I either don’t have the time or wouldn’t even think to research, but Rotary gives me a chance to hear from experts on those topics.
  2. Professional networking.  Rotary allows you to develop meaningful relationships will fellow community leaders. The weekly lunches give you the opportunity to really find out who your fellow Rotarians are. I once had a President I worked for who commented on the strength of my community connections and inquired how I’d gotten them.  “They are all in Rotary with me,” I responded.
  3. Make the world a better place. Whether it is holding a roadside cleanup, building a playground, or donating together to fund a much-needed well in an impoverished country, Rotary offers a structured and safe way to make a difference.  You know your money and time is going to a great cause and it’s so rewarding to see the results. I’ve worked on community service projects, interviewed students for scholarships, and reviewed and voted-on grants submissions. Each has been rewarding in its own way.
  4. International programs. There are a wide variety of opportunities to learn more about different parts of the world. You can travel and do community service work, be a host family for an exchange student, or be a short-term (usually one week) host for a young professional in the Group Study Exchange program. I’ve done the latter and it was an incredible experience. I met some amazing young professionals from Rome that I am now grateful to call my friends. And, I had the chance to visit them in Rome, Italy.
  5. Share your passions. I don’t just working in marketing, I live and breathe it. I’m also a teacher at heart, so I truly enjoy sharing my marketing knowledge with others. Rotary has given me a way to present to my fellow Rotarians in my own club and other clubs.  In 2011, I gave a presentation to my local Rotary club titled, “Effective marketing using the broken windows theory.” Approximately 70 people showed that day at lunch and a fellow Rotarian taped my presentation for me and I posted it on YouTube. From the people in the room referring me and the YouTube link, I’ve been able to give that same presentation to more Rotary clubs, at a national marketing conference, at an Air National Guard leadership conference, to many individual businesses and organizations, and to two chambers of commerce as their keynote speaker. I would have never had the opportunity to do any of those talks had it not been for Rotary.

So, now that I’ve convinced you that Rotary is definitely something you need to be a part of, research a local club and get involved! Technically, you have to be invited, but I guarantee you, if you show up, someone will step forward and “invite” you on the spot. For those of you in Rotary, what things would you add to this list? How has Rotary enriched your life and your community?

Get that job! Networking steps I provided to a student

One of the cool things that I consider a part of my job at a community college is to mentor our students. So, when I met a young lady and she mentioned that her dream job was to work for a particular organization in the Houston area, I offered to buy her lunch and show her how to get the job. She agreed and we had our lunch today!  Below is the steps I gave to her to get her dream job once she graduates from her program (some details changed to protect her identity). What do you think? Do you agree? Is there anything you would add?

A man showing students an electronics room.
From Flickr: USDAgov. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of Chief Information Officer (OICO) Information Technology (IT) division hosted a USDA IT Job Shadow Day at USDA. Students from Springbrook High School Academy of Information Technology from Silver Spring, MD received a tour of USDA’s technology center at the Washington Communications Technology Services (WCTS) center in the South Building of USDA in Washington, D. C. WCTS Lead Network Engineer Andre Mbonda explained the complex network systems of USDA to the students. Photo by Bob Nichols.

Steps of proper networking to get a job:

1.       Research the person you are going to contact. What makes them tick? What special research have they done? Did they win an award recently?

2.       Contact the person, tell them who you are and what you are interested in. Let them know, through casual conversation, what you found out during step 1. Ask if you can job shadow them and buy them lunch. If that fails, ask if you can just buy them lunch sometime at a time and place that is convenient for them. For example, “Hello Ms. X. My name is X and I’m interested in becoming a X  am currently in school for this. I saw that you won the X award through the X association the other day and wondered if I could schedule a time to job shadow you and take you out to lunch?”

3.       If yes, schedule a time and location that is convenient for them. NEVER ask them to come to you. If no, ask if there is someone else you can contact and repeat the process for that person. If still no, say thank you and leave it there.

4.       Prepare a list of questions that you want to ask during the job shadow. Don’t ask about salary, but do ask about their educational background, what is their favorite part of the job, what advice they would have for someone like you, etc. You can find a lot of good job shadow questions online.

5.       The day of the job shadow, dress for the job, be 10-15 minutes early, have cash on you for lunch (in case you end up somewhere that doesn’t take credit cards), and a pen and notepad to take notes.

6.       Take notes and ask your questions when you can without interrupting what they are doing. Take special notes of names and titles of people you meet (as potential other jobs shadows, networking, etc.).

7.       Buy the person lunch and thank them every chance you get.

8.       After the shadow, write them a hand-written thank you note. Mail it to them within three days. Be specific in this note. Let them know how much you appreciated their time, and some key take-aways that you learned from them.

9.       Check-in with them at least quarterly. Don’t ask about jobs, just let them know how you are progressing in your schooling and what your next steps are. They’ve taken an active role with you now, so they will be happy to hear these things from you!

10.   You might want to set-up a Google Alert or some other way of monitoring them in the news. That way, if they win an award, get a promotion, etc. you can send them a card congratulating them.

11.   When you graduate, send them an email and let them know you’ve successfully completed school! Ask them who at X organization you should contact to inquire about job opportunities.

12.  Even if it doesn’t lead to a job right away, keep networking with them! I’ve had employers call me years later and tell me about job openings.