“People only see what they are prepared to see.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Business conventions, conferences, and seminars — you can use them to further your goals or kill time. I have done both and as you might imagine I have an idea about how they should be handled.

Earlier in my career, I saw such events as social adventures. Evenings were Bacchanalian marathons, days head-throbbing distractions. About 20 years ago, I developed a very serious attitude about getting business done during business hours, but I refused to give up the nighttime shenanigans. The result was an ultimately unacceptable mix of accomplishments and setbacks, smart moves and embarrassments.

One of the many advantages of getting older is that your body can’t fulfill the promises your mind keeps making, and so you may eventually give up the worst of your bad habits.

In recent years I’ve been better … not always and not much … but I seldom wake up hung over, and those shuddering breakfast recollections are less grievous now.

What Do You Miss When You Make Business Events Into Social Sabbaticals? More Than You Might Imagine.

Every contact you make and every idea you encounter has the potential to benefit you in some way. It may not be obvious at first, but if you persist it will emerge. I can document the following:

* an accidental conversation at a direct marketing conference that resulted in a multi-million-dollar joint venture

* an idea overheard at a sales seminar that resulted in a jewelry business that is still paying its partners (long since retired) five-figure dividends 15 years later

* a casual introduction at a booksellers’ convention that led (18 months later) to the acquisition of a travel publishing business that was sold five years later for a profit of $4 million.

It would have been so easy for any of these things to have NOT happened. So easy to have let these opportunities slip by. They all started with small encounters … so casual as to feel accidental. Yet, they resulted in major, unanticipated benefits.

How To Make The Most Of Your Next Conference Or Seminar

If you want to get more out of attending these events, consider these suggestions:

1. Recognize how useful they can be are. If you see them as precious opportunities to make new contacts and get new ideas, you will use your time profitably.

2. Plan ahead. Find out ahead of time who is going to be there that you know or would like to know. Send notes. Make appointments.

3. At conventions, set aside adequate time to walk the exhibit hall. Go through it one time quickly to get the lay of the land, and then return to speak with anybody you’ve noted as interesting. Don’t be afraid to talk to anyone who wants to talk to you. If the profit connection isn’t obvious in the beginning, it will appear if you keep probing.

4. Have specific objectives. If you are sitting in on a seminar or a roundtable of colleagues, know beforehand what you want to learn and what you are willing to share. Come to all prearranged meetings with a definite goal in mind. Allow the conversation to range, but make sure you leave with your intentions satisfied.

5. Consider traveling in teams. If you attend such events with someone else, you can cover more ground, speak to more people, and benefit from different perspectives on shared experiences. Also, if you are shy, you can team up with someone who isn’t afraid to go up and speak to strangers. If you don’t have the technical expertise you need in order to talk to certain vendors, you can get that by having a technical partner.

My own rule of thumb is two-member teams for seminars and smaller meetings, and three-to-six-member teams for large conventions and trade shows. To make sure your team is at its best:

* Meet each morning before the show begins to discuss goals.

* Meet each evening before dinner to review the day’s events and exchange contacts and important information.

* On the way home, each team member should review his notes and compose a one-page summary of key observations and conclusions as well as intended actions.

* Within a week of the event, send out short, personal notes to all contacts, and more formal letters to anyone with whom you have discussed specific business opportunities.

You may have other ideas on how to get more out of business conferences and seminars. If you do, please share them with us on the ETR Message Board (www.earlytorise.com).

As I said before, I have been a miserable role model when it comes to this important aspect of doing business, but the modest and faltering efforts I’ve made have been so fruitful that I’m a big believer in doing it right.

Your next business conference or seminar will give you at least a hundred small, seemingly inconsequential, opportunities to have more, get more, and be more. Any one of those might be the million-dollar idea/contact you are looking for. Start by recognizing the chances you will be given, plan to take advantage of them, and then execute your plan like a business commando.