business developmentWhen you are paying exorbitant rates to stay at luxury hotels and attend legal conferences and bar meetings that are out of town, you want a significant return on your investment from all the happy hours and mixers you attend. The best outcomes occur when you prepare in advance for that networking and do what it takes to make valuable contacts with prospective clients and referral sources.

Here are 5 ways to make sure those happy hours and mixers become business development bonanzas.

1. Get a list of attendees.

If you can’t get the current year’s list of attendees, last year’s list will suffice. Examine the list several weeks in advance and identify whom you most want to meet. Pick up the phone and call people on the list. Schedule as many breakfasts, lunches, and dinners as you can.

2. Have a game plan.

Your goals for attending the conference should be to deepen relationships and generate business. Think about the quality of each new contact you make, the topic of each seminar you attend, as well as the panelists’ backgrounds. Once your goals are identified, you can assess how much you achieved after the conference is over.

3. Be social.

Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and talk to people sitting near you in seminars, or with people congregating between sessions. Ask questions. Engage in substantive conversations. Have your elevator pitch ready to use at an appropriate time. These are opportunities to show others that you are not only personable, but knowledgeable.

4. Make yourself invaluable.

After the conference is over, refer to your notes and pass along any valuable information or insights you gained to the new contacts you made at the event. Find articles that add new dimension to the presentations you heard. A quick note that says, “Saw this and thought of you,” is a personal touch that leaves a lasting, positive impression.

5. Follow up.

In the weeks following the conference, follow up and re-introduce yourself to those people whom you met for the first time. LinkedIn is the perfect platform for this type of follow-up. Personalize your communications, and be sure to reference the conference where your initial meeting took place, as well as something that you may have discussed together. This warm re-introduction will be very much appreciated.

Remember: The measure of a successful conference is not about how many business cards you collect; it’s how many relationships you cultivated.

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