I can conference…and you can too

by Elaine Hamm, PhD, President and CEO, Ascend BioVentures

As many of you know, I do business development by need, not choice.  Nothing about me says “Good at sales” or “likes other humans.”  I am introverted, the thought of talking to a stranger makes me die a bit inside, I hate doing the hard ask, and I feel like I am bothering people when I talk to them about my technology and/or company. In fact, I was told by an executive coach that my profile doesn’t point to Business Development (OR Startup Entrepreneur…but that is another story).

And yet…here I am.  Getting ready to do BD at the world’s largest nerdy speed dating conference, BIO International.

But, more importantly, I am not anxious (well…yet).

It isn’t that I CAN’T talk to people…I just don’t LIKE to talk to people.  Thus, the thought of talking to hundreds of people for hours every day for a week is incredibly intimidating (or nauseating, depending how you look at it). I start with a few simple things like figuring out who is going that I DO know and scheduling some time with them.  But below is a more detailed list of how I do BIO (and most conferences really). 

1. Before the meeting:  While I like the app from a schedule perspective, I also like knowing not just who I am meeting with but WHOOOOOO I am meeting with that day.  For each meeting I have a form that I fill out beforehand (yes, I created an actual form because I am type A and that is who I am as a person).  This form has info on the company, their areas of interest, public/private, any funding information, and any product that they may have in their pipeline in that space. I also include information on the person I am meeting with (a picture of them from LinkedIn and any mutual connections are nice to add as well). I know…it sounds a bit stalker-esque but it helps when you are in the wrong meeting room to know what they look like! Then I write out a list of things that I want to talk to them about at that meeting.  As an accelerator, I am both selling and looking for multiple technologies. It is really important to have this information, so I don’t panic about what to talk about for the next 20 min. Finally, I include a blank area for me to write down what we talked about, my impressions, and what the next steps are. Oh…you think you will remember?  Yeah.  You won’t.  Just do it.

2. At the partnering meeting: feel out whether they want to see your pitch deck or not.  Some just want that and only that. But usually the best connections are where you also take time to get to know them too.  Also, it has been my experience that people don’t want the paper you printed out for them.  It just goes into their Abbvie-Sponsored BIO bag and thrown out later.  Email them information afterwards.

3. Receptions: I tend to skip the booth receptions.  It is usually incredibly crowded and full of people that get kinda shove-y for cheese and bad “champagne.”  I take that time to decompress (or change out of a sweaty suit and escape from my control top pantyhose).  That said, I do go to evening receptions.  Normally, I turn into a pumpkin at 10 pm and just want PJs, room service, and to facetime my dogs…er, I mean my husband.  But I do this part because it is important piece of networking at BIO.  And yes, RSVP.  For realz. 

Other tips:

1. Bring a battery power pack.  Cause sometimes the only wall of plugs at the convention center is off-limits and you may not want to go sit in Company ABC’s booth just to charge your phone.

2. You know that old adage for packing?  Bring half the clothes and twice the underwear?  Same thing goes for business cards. Take what you think you will need and bring more than that. 

3. Hydrate.  And don’t hydrate with coffee.  Now before you push up your glasses and tell me “Well actually coffee has water in it…” Shuttie.  You will be talking a BUNCH and will lose your voice by Thursday.  Coffee won’t help you with that. Drink actual water.  I like hot water, add a lemon, and some honey.

4. Hand sanitizer is your friend.  You would be amazed at the number of people that this microbiologist catches leaving the restroom at a BIO convention without washing their hands.

5. Speaking of that…wash your hands.  Cause gross.

6. Use an app to keep up with receipts for that expense report.  Better than tracking down 75 slips of paper shoved into your suitcase, pocket, or purse.

7. If you get someone’s card and want to follow up with them, write on the back of them details of what you talked about, etc.  I sometimes write down where I met them and what they wore.  I am a visual person, so it helps jog my memory.

8. Figure out where that designated UBER pickup spot is at the conference early on.  Because by Thursday, the thought of getting on that damn bus again will make you a little murdery.

9. Follow ups.  I take the plane ride home to review my packets and what I need to do. Then I write my to-do list for the next week.  Then I take my notes and scan them to Box.  Not because I am super awesome. Because I will forget. If someone follows up with me, I try my best to respond within a few days.   I know.  You are busy.  But honey…we are ALL busy.  Just pull the bandaid and do it. Human interaction is the point of conventions. And, for the people I really enjoyed meeting, I write handwritten thank you notes.  Like hand sanitizer, business cards, and emergency snacks, thank you cards are always in my suitcase and it is just easier to do them on the plane and get it out of the way. 

Then, get excited to be in your own bed, not talking to anybody. And probably recovering from a cold you got from someone who hates washing their hands.

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