6 Ways to Make Friends with a Conference Speaker

You might think it’s impossible to stand out in a sea of hundreds of attendees and make a lasting connection with a high-profile conference speaker. Think again!

I give 60 or more presentations every year and I’m really grateful that at every event there are one or two individuals who do more than just listen to my presentation—and leave at the end. They take the initiative to introduce themselves, and as a result, I have an amazing network of friends all over the world.

Networking with conference speakers is not scary or difficult. Here’s a short list of things that I honestly wish more people would do more of, because they provide natural opportunities for me to get to know people I might not otherwise meet. So if I ever get the chance to see Mellody Hobson or Amy Cuddy speak, here’s the plan:

6 Ways to Make Friends with a Conference Speaker

A few days before the conference, share the speaker’s latest article, blog post or video on social media. Tag them, include the conference hashtag, and do this again the morning of the conference.

Arrive at their session 30 minutes early so you can introduce yourself. Let them know you’re excited about the session and came early to grab a spot in the front row. Ask if there’s anything they need help with. Don’t do this if you arrive ten minutes before their session starts because they’ll be preoccupied with sound checks and running through any last-minute logistics with the conference staff.

While you’re there, offer to do a coffee run and bring them a snack. Here’s something you probably did not know about conference speakers: We never get enough food and caffeine.

Think about it: While you were enjoying the lunch buffet, the speaker for the afternoon breakout session was huddled in their conference room doing microphone checks and flipping through their presentation. By the time their session is done, the lunch food will be long gone. If they’re lucky, they’ll get to pick at some appetizers during the evening networking reception. Being a speaker means missing meals.

So ask your speaker if they’d like an iced tea and dessert from the conference lunch. Or show up with a bottle of water, and a nutrition bar or a piece of fruit. (If they travel a lot, they might be struggling to work out and eat well.)

If you plan to blog or live-tweet their session (which are good things to do) ask if you can get an exclusive photo or quote before the session begins. Tag them in your post and there’s a good chance they will share it with their networks.

And don’t forget to follow up after the session. This might mean staying to ask a question or to let them know you enjoyed their talk. You could instantly win them over by offering to introduce them to another group of conference where their presentation might be appreciated. But guess how many conference participants send a hand-written thank-you cards to speakers? None! Nobody does that, ever. But if you did, it would make you memorable.

Finally, invite the speaker to dinner. Assemble an interesting group of people, a mix of friends and influencers that the speaker would not get to meet otherwise. This could include inviting more than one speaker: they don’t often get to meet each other, even though they’d like to. Anita, a software engineer, invited me and her Vice President of Engineering to dinner at Society of Women Engineers conference. I invited a colleague and we had a great time. We all stayed in touch for many years and collaborated on various projects.

None of this guarantees that you will be friends for life with a speaker, but it will definitely give you a head start. I have met some of my best, dearest friends this way.

In summary, here are six ways to make friends with a conference speaker:

Share their latest article

Arrive 30 minutes early

Bring them a snack

Blog or live-tweet their session

Follow up after the session

Invite them to dinner.

You don’t have to take all six steps. That might be overkill. Pick two or three that you feel comfortable with.

You can also use these steps to support a friend when they’re speaking at a conference. (It’s not always easy being the speaker. ) Cate Huston, who is Director of Mobile Engineering with Ride and a frequent speaker at technical conferences, suggests “If one of my friends (or even someone I’m friendly with who I don’t know super well) is speaking I will offer to be their entourage and do a bunch of these things. It is a really nice way to show support.”

Please note that these suggestions only work with conference speakers that aren’t jerks. If the speaker you’re trying to approach doesn’t appreciate these gestures, then it’s possible that you are dealing with a jerk. Cut your losses and move on! Move on to the next session where there is sure to be a much nicer speaker who is excited to share their knowledge with you and will be happy to meet you.

These are just a few simple gestures that I wish more people took advantage of. If they did, I would have even more wonderful friends all over the world.

Jo Miller

Jo Miller is a globally renowned authority on women’s leadership. She’s dedicated two decades to helping women advance into positions of influence by leveraging their leadership strengths. Based on her work with hundreds of thousands of women, she developed a pragmatic and powerful roadmap that guides women to become the leaders they aspire to be. Jo shares this proven process in her book Woman of Influence: 9 Steps to Build Your Brand, Establish Your Legacy, and Thrive (McGraw Hill, 2019.)

Jo is CEO of leadership development, consulting and research firm Be Leaderly. Learn more about her speaking engagements at www.JoMiller.com and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

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