Many attendees who are primarily focused on knowledge gathering an event look at the breakfasts, networking breaks, lunches, happy hours and dinners as a time to skip out and get away. But the meal times are the most important opportunities to make meaningful connections with other people.
Everyone likes the idea of making a connection that leads to a future job opportunity, a new client, or a possible strategic partnership developing from king industry contacts. While these types of game-changing events do come from attending conferences, they do not happen by accident. You have to work to make, grow and keep your business relationships.
Be strategic in your plan for how to maximize your meal times while at a conference. Too many people leave their seating to chance, and never end up meeting anyone of consequence.They wonder aimlessly looking for a chair.
Better if you plan whom to sit with.
As you meet people throughout the day, ask them with whom they will be sitting at lunch or dinner. When you can create a plan to sit together with those you have already established an initial connections, you can them go deeper in your conversations during the meal.
Sitting at a random table is a game of "networking roulette". Yes, you might win big, but you also might shoot your chances of best utilizing the meal time.
It is also a great idea to agree to meet someone you have talked with briefly for breakfast the next morning. If you look at the conference schedule there is often a full hour or more set for breakfast, but most people run in just before the open session to grab a cup of coffee or a bagel. This time can be used for meaningful conversations. When you plan discussions with intention you will find more success.
Another mistake is some folks leave the conference to grab dinner with an old friend who lives in the city they are visiting. While it is wonderful and important to cultivate personal relationships, if you are attending a conference for business purposes, and your company is paying for you to be there, you should not skip out on any of the scheduled events. Meals are the engine of trade shows, conferences, seminar, and other gatherings. Humans are social creatures and for thousands of years have come together in groups to dine. It is primal. It is how we bond with others.
If you are on a special diet or have food allergies you need to plan ahead for the best way to handle the buffet line or plated meals. Most hotels will happily accommodate vegetarian, vegan, dairy free, Kosher, and other special needs if you give them advanced notice. Before arriving at the event make contact with the event organizer and / or the venue to find out the best options for your situation. Do not make your food needs an excuse for missing out on the chance to make contacts.
While at a conference treat the meals as your networking pot of gold. A little conversation could lead to a big opportunity down the line.
Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections. http://www.conferencecatalyst.com