How to Network Like a Pro at DealMAX (or Any Conference)
Three expert tips that will show you how to get the most out of any professional conference you attend
As you gear up for this year’s DealMAX—or really any professional conference—you might be wondering how to prepare, what the actual event will look like and what you can do to make the most of networking opportunities. “How to DealMAX,” an ACG webinar held on March 14, centered around exactly that topic.
ACG Global’s Stephanie McAlaine moderated a discussion with panelists who shared their advice for how to accelerate your dealmaking and maximize the growth of your network at DealMAX and beyond. Here are three of their strategies:
1. Plan Ahead to Maximize Your Conference ROI
To get everything you can out of your experience, set goals for what you want to achieve at this conference. Do you want to connect with a certain number of sponsors? Are you hoping to find new business contacts or build on existing relationships? Answer these questions, then start making a plan.
Pre-event planning is one of the most important pieces of the conference.
Bow River Capital
“I think pre-event planning is one of the most important pieces of the conference,” says Jenna Schlageter, director of alternative asset manager Bow River Capital. “I would spend some time on your pitch, how you want to approach the market, and then that’ll give you the framework [to determine] who you want to be going after in terms of meetings.”
Don’t be afraid to research the people you hope to meet. “It’s not a bad thing to look a little stalkerish,” jokes Rob Fox, managing director of private equity at law firm McGuireWoods. “Find out about the person you want to meet with and find some commonalities. It’s a great way to tee up a productive conversation.”
While knowing who you want to meet and what you want to gain from the conference are both important, so is knowing what you bring to the table. Take your firm’s—and your own—strengths and goals into account and build an outline for your conversations to highlight the value you and your company can offer to new connections.
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Speaking of what you bring, packing wisely can certainly help you have a more positive and productive experience. “Bring your comfiest walking shoes because you’re going to logging about 20,000 steps a day—maybe more,” notes Stephanie McAlaine, ACG Global’s chief customer officer. You should also pack a notebook, business cards, pens, a tablet, a water bottle and snacks.
One of the best ways to prepare is to use the tools that are available to you. At DealMAX, ACG is providing a variety of helpful tools such as PitchBook and ACG Access, which allows you to search the attendee list by attendee function, role, deal size and industry. You can also use LinkedIn or create your own cheat sheet so you can quickly recognize and connect with the contacts you’re hoping to meet.
2. Make Productive Connections On-Site
Once you get to the conference, it’s game time. When you first arrive, take a walk around to get the lay of the land. Knowing where the attendee lounge is or where the panels you want to attend will be held will make it easier to navigate in the busy days ahead.
As you attend meetings, events and panels, don’t rely solely on your memory. Take notes, collect business cards and other materials, and make sure you’re recording the important takeaways from your conversations.
It’s really important to be your authentic self.
Baker Tilly Capital
While you might feel pressured to be “on” all the time, don’t feel like you need to put up a false front. “It’s really important to be your authentic self,” says Karin Kovacic, managing director of Baker Tilly Capital, the investment banking arm of advisory firm Baker Tilly. “Approach the event like you would any other time. If late nights aren’t your thing, you’ll see people in the gym [or at run club] in the morning.”
While the networking aspect of conferences is often top of mind, don’t neglect the opportunity to attend events and more relaxed gatherings. “Evening events are a great way to build relationships—not so formal as a one-on-one,” says Fox.
Finally, make sure you’re leaving yourself enough time to recharge. One-on-one meetings and larger events can both be draining—so can alcohol consumption and travel. Don’t go too hard on the first night only to feel exhausted for the rest of the event. And don’t overload your schedule with back-to-back meetings that will leave you drained by noon.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” Schlageter advises. “Pace yourself and make sure you give yourself breaks in your schedule.”
3. Have an Effective Follow-up Strategy
“I’d say the most challenging part of any event is not the prep, it’s not actually being there and having fun and going to meetings,” Fox says. “It’s sitting down afterwards with your business cards and one-pagers and the notes you’ve taken.”
Returning to the office can push all the work you accomplished at the conference onto the back burner, but don’t get too caught up in cleaning out your cluttered inbox to follow up on the connections you made. “At the end of the day, even a brief follow-up is better than none at all,” Fox notes.
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If you attended with other members of your firm, hold a debriefing session soon after the conference. If you attended alone, take the opportunity to review your notes, business cards and other materials. Make a quick list of who you need to follow-up with and send them a thank you and some next steps.
This is also the perfect time to revisit the attendee list. “I go through the attendee list when I get back: Who’d I miss?” Kovacic adds. “You can use that as a launching pad: ‘Hey, sorry we didn’t get a chance to connect. Now let’s have a call.’”
And don’t toss those notes after you’ve sent your follow-up emails. Record the information somewhere, whether it be your CRM, Outlook or the attendee spreadsheet—it will often turn out to be valuable as you develop the relationship.
With some smart planning, a thoughtful strategy and timely follow-ups, conferences can be an amazing tool for widening your network and making meaningful professional connections.
See you at DealMAX!
Hilary Collins is ACG’s associate editor, based in Chicago.
Click here to register for DealMAX. Following a record-breaking year in 2022, DealMAX is on track to surpass investment banker and private equity attendance by another 50% YoY for a whopping 1,500+ core dealmakers expected (85%+ of which are senior level). View the latest attendee information and projections, complete with the full list of registered firms.
Click here to view additional upcoming ACG events.