I’m naturally introverted, so I feel very uncomfortable in situations with people I do not know. My heart races, I get sweaty palms… - the whole thing. So as you can imagine – attending the AFP Annual Conference with 6,499 of my closest friends each year is very intimidating.
During AFP 2016 in my capacity as a board member I had to approach sponsors and vendors to thank them for their support and ask them if everything was going well. This meant I had to walk up to people I didn’t know, insert myself into a conversation they may be having, and talk to them. Alone. It was just as awful as it sounds. Truly terrifying.
But you know what? During AFP 2017 this task should be that much easier now that I have some experience. And if I stick around long enough (AFP board members serve up to eight years) I may eventually be able to have conversations with people I don’t know without getting sweaty.
Now that you know how I feel about being with people I don’t know, you can imagine how I feel about the abundance of networking time at the annual conference each year. So it may shock you that my advice to you is this: Attend the networking events - even if it makes you feel a bit uncomfortable at first. Tough as it may seem for us introverts, you need to realize that you are also a corporate treasury and finance professional. Where else can you be around other people who love treasury, FP&A and finance as much as you do? Ever try talking about the administrative burden of standby letters of credit with your closest family and friends? It’s not a big hit.
Here are some ways I suggest you network to get the most out of the conference:
Intentional Networking. Is there is a particular issue you are trying to resolve or solution you are trying to implement? Conference is a great time to connect with someone who has already done it. Ask one of your banks or a vendor to put you in contact with someone in your space who may be able to help. Is there a new product you are interested in and want to learn more about it? Reach out to your banks to set up a meeting during a break in the educational sessions. Conference is a great time to meet with several banking partners in short order so there are plenty of intentional networking opportunities.
Casual Networking. When you attend the attendee breakfasts and lunches, speak with the people at the same table as you. Stop nervously looking down at your phone and acting like you are sending an email (been there, done that!). Introduce yourself and strike up a conversation. It could lead to information sharing, an unexpected new job opportunity, or simply an enjoyable conversation.
Attend a sponsored luncheon. I will attend the FP&A Luncheon and Reception for those holding the FP&A credential. These events are a great way to have even more targeted conversations. These event attendees will either be in your specific industry or field, or you’ll at least have an easy ice-breaker (“How about this luncheon?”).
Attend the educational sessions. Year after year educational sessions have been my area of focus at conference. As soon as the schedule is released I review it to plan which sessions I will attend. There are more than 130 to choose from, and the speakers and topics are excellent and up to date. If you are particularly impressed with or interested in someone’s presentation and would like to speak with them or ask a question: DO IT. Approach them afterward and ask for a few minutes of their time or their contact information so you can connect after conference.
Make it count. Conference is three days of opportunity: networking, educational sessions, career development sessions and industry updates. Plus, it’s FUN.
Even for an introvert like me.