After LinkedIn announced the launch of its news-channel initiatives, I signed up for a couple of feeds to get a sense of what would be featured. Perhaps it was the advent of BookExpo (taking place in New York this week), but over the weekend I found myself checking out "Six secrets to better networking at conferences", by Dave Kerpen, founder and CEO of Likeable Local.
Making better use of conference time is a laudable goal, and on first blush Kerpen's six points are reasonable enough. But as I ran down the list, his overall take began to feel a bit creepy:
- Research speakers and attendees ahead of time, and reach out to them early
- Use social media to connect with and compliment [not just engage with] the speakers
- Skip a panel or two and hang out in the break room
- Forget giving out business cards – collect them
- Ask meaningful questions of the people you meet
- Have a signature style [Kerpen pitches his orange 21 pairs of orange shoes]
To Kerpen, "ahead of time" meant reviewing the agenda a couple of weeks before an event. I don't know about you, but I'd be put off by someone who asked to meet, started following me on LinkedIn and Twitter and complimented me at every turn, all in a two-week window. A bit more lead time would be wise and sincere.
The business-card idea also sounded reasonable, until Kerpen offered his pitch:
I bring my business cards to conferences. But I'd rather be in control of who I connect with – collecting cards from the people I most want to stay in touch with. So, do ask each person you meet for his/her card- and then, do connect with them on LinkedIn – either after the conference, or right then and there. Always include a personal message when connecting.
If you're keeping track, this is the second time in his post that Kerpen pitched LinkedIn as part of his conference networking solution. That's not reassuring those of us who signed up for "news".
Ultimately, Kerpen's advice fell short of answering a basic question: why do I want to meet people? The goal can't be just "more connections". It also has to embrace a definition of "meaningful" that is better than this:
… ask better questions, such as "What are you most passionate about?" and "What charity do you care most about?" and "Who at this conference would you most like to be connected with?" That way, you get people talking about something they really care about, and you can form a more meaningful relationship faster.
In her post about starting up in publishing, Liza Daly offered a simpler piece of advice: "Don't be a jerk". She went on to say "be generous". It helps when the arrow points to someone other than you.
In his Seven Habits work, Stephen Covey popularized the basic advice, "Seek first to understand". I don't think he'd have been keen to see that reduced to "Seek first to meet" or "Seek first to gain enough information to connect with that person on LinkedIn".