By Vanessa Denha Garmo
The Mackinac Policy Conference is the premier networking event of Michigan. It is not only a place for newbie networkers to get their feet wet but it is the platform for veteran connectors to collaborate and communicate.
These networking skills you learn at the Mackinac Policy Conference can be used in other events you attend throughout the year.
After attending for nearly two decades, you notice patterns and personalities. There are the people who just want to party on the island and treat the conference like a vacation. I once had a former fellow reporter not believe me when I explained how exhausting the three days on the island are actually. She didn’t believe I worked while attending until she attended one year and was shocked on what the job on the Island entailed.
For many people, especially reporters, it’s work. It’s why the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce sets up a media center equipped with tables, chairs, WIFI, printers and all the other amenities needed in a traveling newsroom. Others may not be not working as hard as the journalists on deadline, but others attend the conference with specific agendas. They set up meetings and sit in on specific talks and sessions that pertain to their industry.
Then there are the passive attendees, the ones who just walk about observing but don’t really get involved. They may pop into a keynote address or have lunch on the porch but they don’t have a plan in place to accomplish anything in particular while on the island. They watch the Governor work the porch, shaking hands but are not really paying attention to what is being said or talked about on the island.
There are political candidates, politicians, spouses of attendees, community activists, non-profit leaders, CEO’s, bankers, developers and entrepreneurs among others who attend.
Strategize before you go and when you get there be sure to have a plan in place. Decide the sessions you want to attend and people you want to meet on the porch or at the cafe. You can best do this by using the Conference APP. This is imperative. The sessions and attendees are on this app. Read it as soon as it is LIVE. Many conferences have APPs, use them when possible.
Regardless of what your business card says or what your agenda entails, you need to first remember to appreciate where you are at the moment. Take in the smell of the lilacs, the sound of the horses and the site of the Grand Hotel. My favorite moment is getting a peek of the bridge just as you make the last steps up the hill to the Grand Hotel steps. There really is no view like the one from the historic porch of the Grand Hotel.
Seek out people you met the year prior. I bumped into someone from the Ilitch Business School at Wayne State University and we continued a previous conversation. There are people you may only see at the conference. Some people live in other parts of the states so this is a good opportunity to meet them in a casual environment. You can continue getting to know them via email or following them on social media.
You should also engage the conference on social media. Tweet news stories reporters are covering or soundbites from sessions you attend. Be part of the overall conversation at the conference. Find out the hashtag for the Policy Conference and others you attend, and use it in your social media posts.
Follow up with people after the conference. I always send notes to people I meet on the Island or have had conversations with about work. Make more of your conversation or continue what started on the island. Maybe follow up with materials that could enhance a conversation you started during your time at the conference. This is important to building a relationship with people. It’s not just about meeting people, it’s about getting to know people and hopefully collaborating and connecting with them.