Strategically Networking At The Mackinac Policy Conference

Strategically Speaking: A Blog by Denha Media Group

When I went to the Mackinac Policy Conference for the first time as a reporter for WJR in the 1990s, I learned an invaluable networking lesson that has stayed with me ever since.

Know how to network and develop relationships.

It was my second time at the Policy Conference hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber. The first time I went, I was as an editor of a Health Care Business Magazine.

The first night on the island — before the cocktail hour started on the porch of the Grand Hotel — my News Director – Dick Haefner – told me that the event was the best networking event I would ever attend calling it “the networking event of the year.”

Paraphrasing, he also said, pretty much every source I needed for the year was on Mackinac Island so don’t leave without collecting and handing out as many business cards as possible.

I have been doing just that ever since.

I have lost count with how many Policy Conferences I have attended in the professional positions I have held in the last 20 plus years but I think I have only missed two or three.

I have expanded on my news director’s suggestion, however.

Every night when I get back to my hotel room, I make note of who I met, what we talked about and I write personal notes to those people that I mail from home.

I also follow up via email and ask if they mind being on my newsletter list or if they would like information on communication strategies or public relations?

Most people are very receptive. I also tell them if they ever tire of the newsletter, feel free to unsubscribe, and my feelings would not be hurt.

Since 2010, I have attended as both publisher of The Chaldean News and as Founder of Denha Media Group. In both capacities, I still report about the conference. I am using both traditional media and social media to engage the audience. I have also produced news packages about the event for the student journalism program Youth Neighborhood News.

I always meet new people and see old acquaintance; I have picked up some clients as well.

Like my former boss said, it is still the best networking event of the year. As tough as it is for a small business owner to be away from the office for a few days following a holiday, it is still the most important networking event I attend every year.

I have learned over the years that if you go to the island with a strategy, you will get the most out of the event.

I share with you 10 important networking strategies.

  1. Make a List. The hundreds attendees are people who you might never get to meet otherwise. So it is essential that you are strategic. This event is a perfect opportunity to meet future clients or collaborators. At some point, the Chamber usually releases a list of attendees or you might have a copy of the previous year. So read it and highlight those people you want to meet most.
  2. Have an Agenda: You should know what you want to accomplish. What speakers you want to hear and what panel discussion most interests you? What are you hoping to learn and take home from the conference? Know that before you go.
  3. Create the Conversation Starter: In marketing you learn about the 30 second elevator pitch. In networking, it is not much different. And social media can help. The Chamber is social media savvy so take advantage of it; download the APP of the 2016 Conference and review it regularly. Follow the Chamber on Twitter @DetroitChamber and like the page on Facebook, Look at the hashtag conversations about the event. Read about the speakers and discussions going on and make note of who you want to meet and what you might want to discuss. Although people are more relaxed on the island than at work, they are still busy and have an agenda. So create a 30 second pitch or a conversation starter using content that has already been created.
  4. Follow Up: As I mentioned above, exchange business cards and have a plan to follow up with each person after the conference. Maybe schedule coffee or a lunch. In the past, I have invited people to other events or made sure to seek them out at another Chamber event.
  5. Communicate It: Use social media to share what you are experiencing and learning at the Conference. Use the hashtags created for the events and tag various people in your posts. Add photos and quick videos to the post as well.
  6. Research the Speaker: On my drive up north to the 2014 Policy Conference, I listened to Malcolm Gladwell’s books on CD to learn more about him. He was one of the main attractions that year. I enjoyed learning more about him before I heard him speak. Read about the speakers before you attend. Perhaps you can seek them out and ask your own questions.
  7. Dress for Island Success: Most people are business casual and you can sport your personal style without being unprofessional. However, I have seen a fashion fiasco or two over the years. Always look professional even sans the tie for men or skirts and dresses for women— popular attire at the Grand Hotel.
  8. Smile: It may seem simple and silly but it is true — people are drawn to those who smile. Scientist and spiritual teachers agree that the simple act can transform you and the world around you. Current research shows that a smile is contagious and the act of smiling activates neural messaging that benefits your health and happiness.
  9. Let Your Body Talk: In additional to smiling, your entire body communicates even when you don’t utter a word. Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, conducted several studies on nonverbal communication. He found that 7 percent of any message is conveyed through words, 38 percent through certain vocal elements, and 55 percent through nonverbal elements (facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc). Although research varies, it is safe to say that nonverbal communication ranges from 60 to 90 percent. Look in the mirror and ask yourself, do I look confident? Do I appear professional? Am I approachable?
  10. Relax and Enjoy: The greatest thing about the Policy Conference is relaxing in a gorgeous setting. Every year I stand on the porch of the Grand Hotel looking at Lake Huron while breathing in that up north fresh air and somehow the stresses of the day disappear. When you are relaxed, you are more engaging. If you need help, Lila Lazarus has brought Yoga to the Conference, which will enhance your relaxing experience. Check out the Mackinac Policy Conference APP for more details.

Make the most out of the Mackinac Policy Conference by creating that networking strategy.

Vanessa Denha Garmo is founder of Denha Media Group

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