While we’ve all been told that attending industry conferences are an “investment”, the reality is, conferences often seem more like an expense than a value-add. From registration to the plane ride there and back, time away from home, and the mountain of work piling up, conferences cost. So, as attendees, we go in with an “ROI mindset,” meaning, we’re asking ourselves, “how can I make this payoff.” So, armed with a conference badge and a stack of business cards, we jump into the endless sea of small talk.

But recently, I had a different experience.To my surprise, the 2018 TMRE (The Market Research Event) last month in Scottsdale was one of the best market research events I have ever attended. It wasn’t because we won an award (although that didn’t hurt). A keynote speaker stood before the crowd and dropped one word that changed my perspective on conferences, and that word was serendipity.

How is serendipity relevant?

Serendipity is finding those hidden nuggets of value in unexpected places. But it doesn’t just find its way into romance novels and John Cusack movies. The notion, introduced by the keynote, challenged attendees to eschew the usual suspects and embrace serendipitous moments by striking up conversations you wouldn’t normally ignite, attending sessions one usually wouldn’t participate in, and visiting exhibitor booths you would normally bypass.

Check the ROI mindset at the door.

By leaving the ROI mindset behind and seeking out new people and experiences, I made some great connections. This small change in my thinking allowed me to enjoy the conference without a hidden agenda, which, ironically lead to more organic moments to make real business connections. People can tell when you’re on the prowl and immediately flee.

But shifting from trying to get business from people to just being open to meeting new people cleared the path for more business to come my way.

Tips to use at your next conference.

Use these three tips from one of the best conference experiences I’ve had to infuse more serendipity into your next conference:

  • Get off the convention floor – Most conferences are at large hotels or resorts that have a multitude of open areas. While the hustle and bustle of the convention floor provides a lot of opportunities to bump into your industry peers, some of the best connections I made were in the common areas. The change of scenery fosters the opportunity for more intimate conversations that you couldn’t otherwise have.
  • Chill on the business card – Whipping out your business card in the first few seconds of meeting someone can be a red flag for some. You don’t want to signal that your only intent is to connect for leads. Learning about someone’s background and interests can create more opportunities than pigeonholing them as a lead. There is a time and place for everything. So, let the tone of the conversation naturally guide you to the business card exchange.
  • Attend the mixers – Yes, mixers feel forced, but event planners know what they are doing. After a long day of sessions and collecting tchotchkes at booths, conference attendees are looking to blow off steam at the end of the day. Mixers are the best place to have serendipitous conversations that are not business related and can lead to long-lasting business relationships.