What a Conference in Vegas Taught Me About Networking Success

Networking skills are critical for your career success.

Networking skills are critical for your career success.

I recently attended a conference in Vegas. I planned to publish a post about making the most of conference experiences before the event but got caught up in my presentation and prepping for a video shoot. In hindsight, it worked to my advantage. Because let’s just say, I was enlightened in Vegas - and whereas I usually adhere to the 'what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas' rule, I’m making an exception here.

With my final draft ready to publish, I had an epiphany. After interacting with so many talented, young professional women, it became painfully obvious that I didn't know what the hell I was talking about. The secret to networking success wasn’t reviewing the conference agenda and doing speaker research in advance. It wasn’t your elevator speech or your handshake, or how prepared you were to discuss challenges of your role, business or industry during impromptu conversations, or how well you interacted socially in after-hours events. No, these were not the secrets to successful networking at conferences. It was your damn shoes.  If your toes were smashed, or your heels rubbed up and down so you grimaced in pain with every high heeled step that eventually resembled a Frankenstein-like gait, how could you possibly get any of the aforementioned stuff right? You can't. It all comes down to your shoes. And young professional women were preoccupied with theirs.

Every time I talked with them, the conversation invariably turned to shoes. It started with a comment about how long the walk was from the hotel elevator to the conference center. A Fitbit wearer with red feet in tight heels logged over 3 miles on day one, but had sadly resorted to wearing sneakers to the cocktail reception, but those hurt so badly she left after her first drink. A colleague towering over everyone across the crowded ballroom said she knew we would find her because of her new platform heels, but they hurt so bad she slipped them off periodically going from really tall to not quite as tall in mid-sentence. Sometimes a shoe compliment quickly led to muffled remarks about foot pain and a full blown tangent on the search for the ever elusive Band-Aid or cotton ball. Or, girls shared their ingenious fixes like folded cocktail napkins and straws or made frantic inquiries into my shoe size wondering if I had a pair of flip flops or ballet slippers tucked away in my trendy tote. Uh, sorry, no.

So, my number one tip for networking success at conferences?  Comfortable shoes that look amazing, Band-Aids and a pair of flats or sandals you can wear with your blisters and Band-Aids.  If you love shoes, go for it. But think about why you do it and if it’s reasonable to do it. Walking 2 or 3 miles in heels during the day may not be reasonable. If you beg to differ break them in! But, don't just sit and admire how great they look on your feet. Get up and walk a couple of miles. Then, walk around some more. You'll at least know how they feel at the end of Day One before cocktails.

For more tips read this! 6 Secrets to Better Networking Success by Dave Kerpen.
It’s from a few years back, just before SXSW in Austin (near and dear to my heart) but his advice is solid. #6. Have a signature style. Maybe yours won’t involve heels!

And while I'm on the subject... Sheryl Sandberg was noticed for wearing stiletto’s again last month when you-know-who always wears sneakers, jeans and gray t-shirts every day. You may also find this recent study indicating that Women Who Spend A Lot Of Time On Their Looks Make More Money.  Yes, there's a double standard, ladies. So, always be true to yourself. And of course, when it comes to shoes even if you love, love, love them, don't hurt yourself.

How do you make the most of your networking and multi-day conference events? Comment now.