At most conferences, the speaking lineup is the main attraction. A lot of people buy their tickets specifically so they can see certain people speak. And you know what that means -- there are a ton of people lined up after every session waiting for their chance to say hello to their favorite speaker.
Meeting new people at conferences in general is an intimidating thought for most people -- so how on earth do you meet one of the speakers without sounding like you're about to make a sales pitch or ask for an autograph? You usually have only one shot to make a lasting impression with the people who everyone is dying to meet. Here are some tips to help you introduce yourself while looking calm, cool, and collected.
DO: Ask for an introduction from mutual connections ahead of time.
On LinkedIn, it's easy to see if you and another person have mutual connections. In January 2014, LinkedIn added the "How You're Connected" tool that shows you a list of mutual contacts demonstrating how a person's connected to you. You'll find this tool in the righthand sidebar when you visit the LinkedIn profiles of people you aren't yet connected with. If you see you have a mutual connection with a speaker, reach out to that person and see if they'd be willing to make an email introduction so you can connect with the speaker ahead of time.
DO: Let them know on Twitter you'd like to chat.
Pretty much anyone loves getting tweeted at -- famous speakers included. So a great way to connect with speakers is to tweet at them letting them know you're a fan, that you liked their session, and/or that you'd like to connect later. Then, you can use the tweet as a conversation starter when you do connect in person instead of starting from scratch. I tried this with Dunkin' Donuts PR & Social Media Manager Jessica Gioglio:
How easy was that? And even if you don't get a response, remember that saying about how you miss 100% of the shots you don't take and whatnot.
DON'T: Be the 100th person to ask for a selfie.
Selfies with celebrities are hugely popular these days, so trust me when I say you're probably not the first time the event speaker's gotten a request for one that day. Above all, you want to make sure you're respecting the speaker's time -- they'd probably rather spend it meeting people, answering questions, and engaging with event attendees, not smiling for the billionth photo they weren't really ready for.
But selfie-lovers, never fear: We have a special treat for those of you headed to INBOUND 2014 this September. If you're thinking to yourself, "Shoot, I really wanted a selfie with Martha Stewart!", then we totally have you covered. Thanks to Dan Zarella, you can now take a selfie with several of our INBOUND speakers -- without actually having to take a selfie with them.
Here's how it works: Head over to the INBOUND Selfie Generator, choose a speaker from the dropdown menu, and click the "Take a Selfie!" button. Allow the use of your webcam, position yourself in the blank space next to the speaker, and click the button prompting you to take a photo. Don't forget to say cheese!
DO: Sit near the VIP section.
Even if you can't swing a VIP pass, you can still choose a seat at each session that's close to the VIP section. Usually, you can find speakers and other VIPs sitting in the first few rows of every session. This will put you in a position to improve your chances of meeting one of the speakers by striking up a conversion before or after a session.
DON'T: Be creepy.
In other words, don't fawn over the speaker. There's no harm in sitting near the VIP section, but be cool about it -- don't take their picture from afar, and don't hang around them throughout the event (unless you've been invited to do so).
DO: Introduce yourself at a happy hour.
You'll find that many VIPs hang around event happy hours to chat with other speakers and attendees. This is probably the best time for you to introduce yourself, thank them for speaking at the event, and ask any questions you have about their work. In my experience, some VIPs don't stick around happy hours for very long -- they tend to have VIP dinners or other events planned. So, best to get to these happy hours on time -- and don't wait around for your chance to introduce yourself.
DO: Send them a personalized invitation to connect on LinkedIn.
It's totally appropriate to connect with event speakers on LinkedIn before, during, or after an event -- even you never got the chance to meet them in person. There's no guarantee they'll accept your invitation to connect (remember, they might have tons of invitations in their queue), but the key to standing out is sending a personalized message instead of resorting to LinkedIn's default message. Here's an example of what you could write:
I really enjoyed your talk on social media in higher education this morning. I'm the sole person in charge of social media efforts at XYZ University, so I found your advice on how to get more budget invested in social media really useful. I can't wait to use these tips at work!
I'd love to connect with you here on LinkedIn and hopefully meet you at another one of your speaking events in the future. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to more helpful content from you.
If you send this before you meet them in person, you'll have a talking point when you introduce yourself. "Hi, I'm Josh -- I sent you a quick note on LinkedIn earlier. Really loved your session!"
And that's about it folks. Remembering these do's and don'ts can help you stay cool when meeting a famous speaker, and will hopefully help you leave a good impression on them, too.
What other tips do you have for staying calm and collected when networking with speakers?
Originally published Aug 25, 2014 12:00:00 PM, updated July 28 2017