How do you benefit the most from networking opportunities at conferences?
Like many of my public and private sector colleagues, I’ve been attending The National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO) Midyear and Annual Conferences for more than a decade. Along the way, as both a state government official representing Michigan and more recently as a part of the corporate membership, I’ve learned a few things to help achieve my goals.
I’m sharing some tips to try and help the wider NASCIO community and hopefully create a WIN/WIN that can enable you to make the most of your precious time. I’m also hoping to open the door to a wider conversation that allows everyone to contribute their thoughts on this important topic of making the most of NASCIO events – both online and offline.
To keep it simple (and fun), please allow me to use a few sports analogies.
My main premise: We all need to prepare for NASCIO events, just as you would prepare for running in a race.
Now I realize that for some people, a 5K charity event might be a stretch, while others run marathons or even participate in triathlons. But no matter what sports activity matches your lifestyle, preparation is the key to success in both athletics and NASCIO networking events.
Step 1: How to Prepare In Advance
Just as runners discipline themselves with regular workouts, eating right and staying fit prior to race day, successful networking requires preparation.
In terms of NASCIO Conferences, advance planning should include:
- Understanding the NASCIO Top Ten priorities. These lists come from the State CIOs and provide great background.
- Having a wider understanding of the ongoing public sector issues and opportunities.
- Visit state government websites and understand the state-specific priorities and strategic plans. For example, the Texas Strategic Plan for 2022-2026 can be found at https://data.texas.gov/stories/s/7j88-zsgw/
- Plan to attend networking sessions at the upcoming NASCIO Midyear conference; CIOs shared their 2022-2023 top initiatives to aid the networking discussions. This list is accessible via the NASCIO conference app for registered attendees only.
- Review the conference agenda and determine which topics and state networking opportunities make the most sense for your particular time and situation.
STEP 2: Networking At the Event
- Use the NASCIO conference app to connect with key attendees.
- Don’t miss the receptions, break times, breakout sessions and meal times to mingle and interact with public and private sector attendees.
- Attend the Networking Sessions on the agenda for the Midyear Conference. This year these networking sessions are refreshed, as follows:
- State CIO Panels: State CIO Panels are 5 concurrent sessions (first round at 10AM and the second round at 10:45AM)
- Moderated panel of all CIOs in the session
- CIOs will share information on their top investment priorities, current major projects, and the best way to engage with the state regarding services and solutions
- The Event Hub agenda will have a breakdown of which room and session each CIO will be in
- State Meet and Greet: Following the panels, NASCIO will host a State Meet & Greet in the MGM Theatre
- Each state will have a table where the CIO and their state team are stationed during this time (job fair-style)
- Attendees can move through visiting with the CIO, and the larger state team at their own pace
- There will be audio prompts to help attendees manage their time and keep conversations moving
- The Event Hub agenda has a map of the State Meet and Greet Table layout
- Tips on Networking for Success
- Select the states you talk with carefully and do your homework on their team and priorities. Know where those tables are and be on time for the session. Note: Most state governments only send their top executives, so recognize who you are talking with.
- Be ready to succinctly introduce yourself.
- Have business cards ready.
- Don’t hog the conversation or try to runout the clock on others. (People remember.)
- Listen closely.
- Make sure you are talking to the right person on the team. (Note: I often hear vendor POCs press a point with a state government representative that worked in an unrelated area. The body language and polite response from the state POC should have told salesperson that they were telling their story to the wrong person, but the pitch continued on and on.)
- If it makes sense (please, this is not always the case), politely ask to continue the conversation at the appropriate time.
STEP 3: After the NASCIO Event: Back At the Office
- Follow-up with key contacts from the event.
- Connect with new contacts in the NASCIO community website and/or on LinkedIn
- Get involved in NASCIO committees and online events and offered workshops. Build name recognition and a good reputation for producing positive results and helping with white papers.
- For private sector staff, participate in the Corporate Member Exchange Calls.
- Start planning for the next NASCIO event, such as the Annual Conference.
My brother Steve, who is a great sales executive, once told me, "Making a sale takes the right product, at the right price, at the right time, with the right customer [need] and the right salesman." If you're missing one of those components, you probably won't close the deal. I found that the same concept is also true when selling our ideas.
NASCIO events are great opportunities to connect with new contacts, but building longer-term relationships that are meaningful will take planning, perseverance and the right timing. Nevertheless, the effort does yield positive results and many lasting benefits.
By doing some homework and knowing what works, you can get the most out of the formal and informal networking NASCIO provides, while avoiding unachievable expectations.
Dan Lohrmann is the Field Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) for Presidio. He is an author, blogger, and global keynote speaker on security and technology topics. While serving in Michigan government, he was named SC Magazine CSO of the Year, Governing Magazine Public Official of the Year, and Computerworld Magazine Premier 100 IT Leader. He can be reached on Twitter @govcso. Or connect with Dan in the NASCIO Community or on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/danlohrmann/