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If the three keys to real estate value are location, location, location, then surely the three keys to career advancement or securing a great new position are networking, networking, networking. Once you've covered the obvious - your rolodex, your school chums, and your golf connections - where else can you turn to expand your web of connections? Too often, professionals pondering a career change ignore or fail to fully exploit the opportunities offered by their industry association meetings. For the properly prepared networker attending industry meetings can be one of the most efficient and cost-effective parts of a career development strategy. Real Estate industry events offer numerous opportunities for professional development and targeted networking.
Let's face it: many professionals approach large gatherings with some trepidation. Even the most gregarious among us can find a dimly-lit, room full of chatter and cocktail-toting strangers a bit daunting. Although most organizations hold their major conventions in the fall, smaller meetings throughout the year can also be great for networking, as they are often more intimate and topical. Whether you are contemplating attending your first association meeting or are a veteran of the rubber chicken circuit, chances are you could be more strategic about using those events for effective career-development networking. The following 15 tips should help you get more out of every meeting you attend:
Plan your yearly calendar of meetings strategically. Meetings are valuable tools in the hands of a strategic networker, and wasted opportunities in the hands of a passive attendee. If you want to improve your industry knowledge, advance your career within your sector or explore a career change into a different area of the real estate industry, meeting attendance deserves to be part of your strategy. Meetings are announced months in advance. Plan to visit our web site frequently and update your personal planning calendar at least quarterly.
Make meetings a part of your professional development plan. Many real estate organizations actively encourage their employees to attend certain industry events. Try to incorporate meeting attendance into the professional development plan approved by your company. Even if you cannot be reimbursed for meeting fees and expenses, you may be able to obtain approval for the out-of-office time. Money and time spent attending meetings can be an important career
Think geography. Sort your personal contact list geographically to identify anyone in or near the meeting's host city. About a month before the meeting, contact any local prospects you hope to meet but wouldn't necessarily travel specially to see, using the upcoming event as an excuse. Even if a meeting cannot be arranged, a useful conversation may result. Consider adding an extra day or partial day to your travel plans to schedule meetings with local contacts or prospects who are not attending the meeting.
Register early. This will ensure that your own contact information appears in the printed conference registry so others can reach you both during and after the meetings. It will also ensure that you get a proper badge instead of a last-minute, hand written one that is difficult to read and brands you as a latecomer!
Stay at the convention hotel or close by. This is yet another reason to register early, as adjacent hotel rooms can fill up quickly. You can stretch your effective hallway time enormously if your accommodation is conveniently located near the meeting venue.
Schedule meetings before you go. If someone you want to see is likely to be at the conference, contact him or her in advance to set up a meeting. Often, you can arrange a 15-minute chat or a cup of coffee during an industry gathering with someone who lives 3,000 miles away, whereas neither of you would normally travel the distance to get together otherwise. Those 15 minutes could change your life.
Display your badge prominently. On your right lapel, please, so that a person you are greeting can see your face and name in a single glance. When you shake hands, your right shoulder naturally comes forward. If your badge is on your left lapel, you are making it harder for the other person to see it. Necklace-style badges, often favored by women, have their shortcomings. Why encourage someone to stare at your navel in order to learn your name? If you think of your badge as jewelry and leave the brooch and scarf at home, you may do better at networking events.
Do your on-site homework. Take time when you first arrive to review the conference registry and agenda and see who is scheduled to attend and speak. This will help refresh your memory on names and faces of people you already know. Make a list (actual or mental) of everyone you want to meet and review your progress against it periodically.
Allow plenty of hallway time. Much of the real work of an industry meeting is done between formal sessions. If you spend too much time in the corner talking on your cell phone, you may look impressively busy but miss the opportunity for a brief conversation or business card exchange with someone you need to meet. One tried and true strategy is to arrive early at a major event (keynote speaker, kickoff luncheon) and simply stand near the entrance. As people stream past you into the hall, you are bound to see someone you want to greet. Just be sure you have secured your own seat inside first.
Choose your breakout and workshop sessions strategically. If your boss is a speaker at one session or the topic is of central importance to your current position, perhaps you will feel obligated to attend that workshop. When you have a choice, however, think about your professional advancement when you choose among conference offerings. The speaker may be more important to you than the topic under discussion. If you want to network your way to a particular person, being a member of his/her audience is a great way to start.
Speak with the speakers. Nobody needs a formal introduction, even to the CEO of the largest REIT or a legendary developer, if that person is a speaker or panelist. Don't feel intimidated about approaching the speaker afterwards to ask a question or have a brief chat, even if the speaker is surrounded by similarly-intentioned audience members. Often this post-session huddle is more interesting than the presentation and experiencing it gives you one more thing in common with the speaker and other audience members who might become great contacts for you.
Learn all you can. Real estate industry meetings offer great opportunities to gain an introduction to new sectors, fields or disciplines. Let your curiosity be your guide here. Research shows that real estate leaders and hiring managers prefer well-rounded, multi-faceted professionals. The broader your knowledge, the more interesting you will be as a candidate and as a colleague.
Network during leisure activities. If you can include any recreational activity in your meeting itinerary - golf outing, mobile workshop, cultural side trip, dinner at a local rib joint - you will have a chance to meet people outside your normal sphere, and also to expand and deepen your relationship with existing contacts. Successful networkers know that life-changing opportunities often come from the most unlikely sources. And remember that the longest time one is able to spend with another at a convention is often at a breakfast or luncheon. Catch up with important contacts at meals and make a point to sit with them. Some seasoned networkers purposely join a table of total strangers just to see if anything interesting comes of it.
Follow up with calls, emails or letters. Too often, professionals return from meetings and become mired immediately in the work that accumulated in their absence. Take the time, on the return flight perhaps, to create your follow-up strategy. If a panelist impressed you, send a letter commending the presentation and introduce yourself. If you had a preliminary meeting with an important contact, or prospective future employer or colleague, send a follow-up communication with more information about you, your company or your resume, if appropriate.
Add your new contacts to your personal database immediately. When you accept someone's card or make an important connection, try to take a minute soon thereafter to note anything you need to remember about that person, what you discussed, who introduced you or what you promised to send as a follow-up. It is often hard to recall these details, if you wait too long. As soon as possible after the event, turn your networking efforts into a usable database of new valuable contacts.