I was recently consulting with a woman entrepreneur, I’ll call her Rose, prior to her participation in an industry association meeting. Her goal for the meeting was to move forward some change initiatives in her industry and gain more recognition for her start-up. Since she was not an invited speaker, we knew she would have to work harder to gain attention for her ideas and gain the notice she deserved. Here are the six ways we identified that she could use this event to advance as a leader and a thought leader in her field.
Craft Memorable, Repeatable Messaging
It’s easy to participate in a large meeting of senior leaders in our field (virtual or otherwise) and never say a word, telling ourselves that we are just there to listen or we’re too new to add anything to the conversation. Instead, Rose and I scripted out a few things that she could say so that she could listen for opportunities to share her ideas or perspectives during Q&A, breakout sessions, and cocktail hours. (Scripting in advance also helps to keep you from rambling or freezing at the moment.)
I asked Rose to think about what two or three things she hoped people would remember, and then we used a message template* to distill those down into repeatable (even re-Tweetable) messages. We explored ways to tell a story, use a metaphor, or share her ideas using a catchy phrase (ex: ‘click-it or ticket’ or ‘womenomics’ vs. women’s economic empowerment), to make her ideas both more digestible and more interesting.
The preparation paid off when Rose called later to tell me she heard someone repeat one of the ideas she’d shared with someone during a lunchtime discussion on a panel later in the day – even giving her credit! This is really the whole idea behind thought leadership — our goal is to ensure people are taking our ideas and carrying them forward – and building momentum for change.
What is your repeatable, re-Tweetable message that will make you memorable?
Identify Your Allies and Prep Them In Advance
Early in my career, I was pitching the idea of hosting the very first venture capital conference for women entrepreneurs to a group of women venture capitalists in Silicon Valley. I went into the meeting seemingly well prepared, but the evening did not unfold as I expected – there were any number of naysayers in the audience who thought the entire prospect flawed, at best.
What turned the tide that evening were two things – first, one of the more prominent women VCs in the valley had agreed to host the event in her backyard, which gave our presentation a certain halo effect because of her positive reputation. And secondly, we had an unexpected ally in the audience who took the microphone and publicly admonished and cajoled her fellow investors to get on board with this event.
Without them both, I’m still not sure that first venture conference would have even happened, much less been such a success, which meant it never would have led to an organization under the leadership of my friend Amy Millman that accelerated the growth of 850+ women-led companies who have generated more than $36B in value over the last 20+ years.
What that evening taught me was how important it is to think in advance about who your allies might be and how important it is to engage them to help you win over other key stakeholders. When they speak up for you and credentialize you appropriately, then you and your ideas will get the recognition they deserve. It doesn’t always pay to leave things too much to chance, as I did!
By mapping out the meeting attendees and their relationships using LinkedIn, Rose and I were able to identify those that a) already had the respect and attention of the most important folks in the room and b) might naturally be on her side for the ideas she was proposing. Then, she set about holding pre-meetings with them to see who might reinforce and amplify her ideas in the room…and beyond. By arming these potential allies in advance with her talking points, Rose was far more likely to get noticed and move forward her agenda.
Who are the allies you can enroll in advance to help you move forward your ideas?
Determine What Introductions Are Needed
In addition to thinking about potential allies in the room, Rose and I strategized the introductions she wanted and those she needed to make using a stakeholder map*. Industry associations are great places to build your network, but they are also opportunities for you to utilize your network to help others. By doing favors for others, you build up a favor bank that you can tap into later when you need it. We identified someone Rose could ask for an introduction to a potential partner, and we identified a few people she knew among the attendees who needed to know one another.
How might you broaden your connections, build your favor bank, and enhance your network through strategic introductions?
How Will You Pay It Forward?
Another role of an industry leader is to serve as a mentor to up-and-comers, particularly the diverse people, in their field. If you are a member of an industry association, ask yourself who you can recommend as a speaker, member, or invitee for their upcoming event. How can you help to diversify the organization’s speaker roster or widen access to their membership ranks? Who can you take with you to the event and introduce to people you know? Who might you meet at the cocktail hour or lunch that needs some mentoring?
In what ways can you pay it forward to open the door of opportunity to someone?
Capture Content That Shares Your Perspective
As an attendee at an industry association event, you can capture the key ideas and craft content that helps carry forward the key learnings of the get-together. This can be as simple as shooting a short video or writing a blog post at the close of the program that summarizes what others need to know about what happened. After all, not everyone can be ‘in the room where it happens,’ so if you are, you have a responsibility to share that experience with others.
Many event organizers and industry association leaders lead the way by inviting attendees to write or create content for their newsletter, website, or after-event summaries, engaging their speakers, sponsors and attendees to help create a long tail for their event. But even if you don’t get the invitation to participate in these opportunities, which Rose hadn’t, you can publish your content to your own, or your company’s communication channels. This can go a long way to establishing your bona fides as a respected expert and might also bring people to your door with an invitation to speak at a future event.
Rose will create a series of three articles that she’ll post on LinkedIn to summarize her key learnings from the event. This will give her the opportunity to share her point of view about the changes needed in the industry and what her company is doing to move forward some strategic initiatives. Our goal is for her to attract some potential partners and allies to her door as well as build a bigger profile in hopes of an invitation to the stage at next year’s event.
What content might you create to share lessons learned and raise your profile?
Step Back and See the Bigger Picture
Finally, one of the most often overlooked aspects of preparing for an industry meeting is thinking in advance about what happens next. It is often difficult to step back and see the broader story, to identify the bigger change underway that you might be a part of. Whether you’re aware or involved or not, your industry is likely undergoing a transformation – either because of economic, technological, legislative or other changes underway. If you can create the right relationships, offer a fresh perspective about the future, and if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and do some heavy lifting, you can often be a part of that change.
Rather than thinking just about the event you’re attending, do your homework about what the bigger issues are for your industry. Look at the agenda for some of the recent major conferences, committees, commissions that impact your industry’s future. Follow some of the speakers from recent events and see what they are writing and talking about. Look over the agenda of the upcoming association event and see what the key themes are and where the most attention is being paid.
Then, think about what role you might play, where your expertise might be valued, where you might be able to steer the change underway in a positive direction for your company and your own priorities by taking a leadership role or serving as a worker bee on an important committee or initiative. This kind of thinking is not (only) for other people…it can bring you a new purpose as well as a broader stage for your own ideas and push forward your career.
What’s the bigger picture of change underway, and how might you engage with and influence that future?
Prior to your next industry event, which of these ideas will you implement? Add your favorite in the comments. Or share your own ideas! I’d love to hear your perspective.
If you’d like a copy of the message template or stakeholders worksheets that I mention in the article, they are available in the Ready to Be a Thought Leader? Toolkit, which includes more than 20 worksheets to help you advance on your journey from leader to thought leader.