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Five Top Tips for Becoming More Assertive at Events

Last updated May 16th, 2014

When I leave a good event I’m exhausted. It’s the physiological signal that I’ve done a good job that day, that I’ve made the most out of the experience and if my cheeks ache from smiling, even better.
A bad event however, lets me walk away restless – full of untapped energy and a lethargy built up from a day of sitting around not participating. It might seem ridiculous as most professional events – conferences, AGMs, trade shows – involve a lot of sitting down listening to keynote speakers, so how could that make you feel tired? But what I’ve found from having been on both sides of the events coin – as an organiser and delegate – is that it’s the in-between moments that are the tipping point between a good and bad event.
It’s all very well sitting around and listening to the speakers, being a sponge for knowledge, but the only way you’re going to really learn, understand and make connections with the events / speakers’ purpose is through meeting and speaking with the other attendees. Psychologically, talking about the information you’ve just heard will help cement it into your brain by giving you time to process thoroughly. Not only do you need to participate for the sake of your own continued professional development, but the chances are that your employer will be keen for you to make connections with other valuable people in the industry who might be attending.
But how do you go about participating in an event? The answer, it seems, is to put yourself out there. To lean in as Sheryl Sandberg would say. And here are my top five tips to get you started:
1. Enable yourself to feel confident
This sounds terribly close to those self-help book mantras, but nevertheless… Do everything you can to make you feel confident before you set foot into the event. Whether that’s wearing your favourite outfit, making sure you have freshly printed business cards, or just making sure you have a good breakfast and nights sleep beforehand. If you can set yourself up to feel rested, happy and confident you’re 90% of your way there.
2. Do your research
If part of your role in being at events is to make connections with important business contacts, make sure you look at the delegate list or search on Twitter for who is talking about the event and do some web-stalking. Find out who the interesting people are, how you can approach them – what conversation starters they might bite on. I’ve often looked at someone’s Twitter account seconds before meeting them so I can go in and immediately have something to make a personal connection with them on.
Likewise, research the speakers and stalls on offer at the event itself. Did you know that speaker was in the news this morning? Did you hear her being interviewed on Radio 4? If you go informed then you’ll have a lot to talk about.
3. Have something interesting to say
This leads nicely on from no.2, but extends a little further to get you to ask yourself the question of what might other people find interesting about you. What stories can you tell? Why would people find you engaging? What can you offer them?
4. Sit down with strangers
Most people attend events with friends or colleagues and you end up talking to them in the breaks and as the day creaks to an end you wonder how quickly you can all duck out and go to the pub… But is that not missing the point a little? What might you stand to gain if you simply sat down at lunch with people you didn’t know. Get to know them, discuss the day, exchange business cards. Then at least you’ll deserve that trip to the pub later.
5. Practice makes perfect confidence
I have to admit, this one is entirely pinched from Claire Shipman and Katty Kay who wrote a great post on enabling women to boost their confidence, but I really feel it applies here too. If you’re a shy person or you’re accustomed to taking a back seat at events, being an active participant is going to be a big change and the only way you’re going to get better at it is through practice. Go to events, really experience them, engage and participate.

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