Jay Thompson has attended 16 Inman Connect events and counting, and over the years, he’s learned a few tips for making the absolute most of the networking event. Follow his lead, and you will, too.

Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent over six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column is published every Wednesday.

“It’s where ideas are nurtured, tribes are found, and careers are built.”

That’s what it says on the Inman Connect New York (ICNY) website. Sure, it’s “marketing speak.” It’s designed to pique your interest. To get you clicking on the “Register Now!” button and drop a grand just to get into the door for “real estate’s premier event!”

But unlike a lot of marketing speak, and unlike many real estate conferences, it is an accurate statement — Inman Connect events deliver.

The agenda is being built. The speakers list grows almost daily. By the time January 25-27, 2022, comes around, you’ll look at the agenda and wonder how in the world you’re going to take it all in.

If you’ve never attended, you may feel overwhelmed, more than a little anxious, and concerned you won’t get value for the money spent.

As a veteran of 16 previous Connect events, I have learned a few things that can help you get the most out of your Connect experience, whether you’re a first-time attendee or a grizzled veteran of numerous events.

What actually happens at ICNY?

I’ve had the good fortune to attend many real estate conferences and events. From the brilliant to the not-so-swift. Trust me, Connect falls on the brilliant side.

You can attend countless sessions, take copious notes, go home and implement new tips, techniques and strategies that can help take your business to the next level. That alone would be time and money very well spent.

But do only that, and you are barely tapping into the power of Connect.

Shortly before Inman Connect Las Vegas, Laura Monroe, Inman’s Global Head of Community, wrote a great piece on getting the most out of Connect. Read that, then come back and finish this, because I’m going to expand on what I think is the most critical, the most useful and the most fun aspect of Connect.

The real magic of Connect is in the networking. There’s a reason they call the event Connect. Fundamentally, the real estate industry — whether you are an agent, broker, team leader, ancillary services provider, vendor, association executive, start-up founder, C-suite leader or anything else — is about relationships.

Meeting new people, cultivating relationships, partnering with others, diving deep into existing relationships or forging new ones is what separates the truly successful from the average.

Building relationships is the key to success in real estate, and there is no better place to build relationships that at Inman Connect.

But how does one go about taking advantage of cultivating the connections available at this event?

Here are some things to consider; some tips I’ve learned and refined over the years. No need to do them all, no need to perfect anything. Not every tip will work for everyone.

But if you read through this and attempt an honest effort to network with other attendees, speakers, panelists and sponsors, I am completely confident that the return you get will more than compensate for your time, expenses and effort. Fair warning: attending Connect events can be addicting.

Make a list of people you want to meet

Lists are quite handy for helping ensure you get around to everyone you want to meet. Check the speaker and panelist list, click and read their bios.

Find someone or something that piques your curiosity and makes you want to learn more. Then find that person at Connect, walk up to them and say, “Hi! I respect what you’re doing (or want to learn more, or don’t understand) and want to meet you. Could I get 30 seconds of your time?”

The vast majority of people at Connect are going to say, “Of course!” — and probably give you more than 30 seconds.

Don’t limit yourself to just speakers and panelists. Introduce yourself to Inman staff, other attendees (find many on the Inman Coast to Coast Facebook Group), meet the sponsors, exhibitors and start-up alley participants.

You could spend weeks meeting these people. You have days, not weeks. You can’t meet them all, but you can meet many.

Make a list. It will help. It also ties to tip No.2:

Don’t limit yourself to that list

Don’t get so focused on ticking off boxes on a list that you miss golden opportunities that abound from meeting people that you had no idea were even attending Connect.

You never know who you may run into in a session, on the elevator, in a bathroom. Yes, a bathroom. That was the first place I met Pete Flint, founder of Trulia, years ago. A random encounter at a bathroom sink.

While Pete and I didn’t become BFF drinking buddies thanks to that brief meeting, we began to build a mutual respect for each other that continues 14 years later.

Connect will be a buzzsaw of activity. It will be overwhelming. Having a list of people to meet is wonderful. Just don’t get so locked into it that you miss other opportunities for connections.

Don’t be shy

It can be intimidating to introduce yourself to a high-level executive, a “celebrity” even. Someone you’ve admired from afar or through social media. But remember: Those people put their pants on one leg at a time. They’re no more or less human that you are.

You have something in common: real estate, marketing, social media, needs wants and desires. Get over your introverted self (tips for that here), suck it up, and go introduce yourself.

What’s the worst that can happen? They’ll say, “Nice to meet you,” and turn away to talk to someone else. So what? Then you turn away and talk to someone else.

Meet the Ambassadors

Inman does a great job of picking an Ambassador team for every Connect event. These are very personable, approachable, helpful people with tons of Connect experience that are there to help you achieve your Connect goals and get the most out of your experience.

They want to help you, but they can’t help if you don’t ask for it. So ask them.

Everyone has to eat

Invite someone to lunch, dinner, coffee or a snack. Everyone has to eat. Connect can be exhausting, breaks are necessary. Food is necessary.

Combine all that necessity and ask someone to lunch. It’s not a date for Pete’s sake, it’s lunch. It’s a time to decompress and get to know someone.

The expo hall

I know, I know, lots of people avoid the expo hall. They don’t want to be pitched by some salesperson touting the latest greatest tool that will save your business and provide untold riches and wealth.

But it’s a mistake to avoid the expo hall. There’s some smart people there who are eager to meet other folks. You’re eager to meet other folks. Hear them out. Maybe you’ll learn something. Maybe you’ll meet someone.

The major point in being there is to learn and meet people. Pro tip: Lots of vendors have after-hour parties. Ask them for an invite.

LobbyCon

Ah, LobbyCon — short for Lobby Conference. This is where the real networking action happens. Usually at a bar, which are plentiful in Midtown Manhattan.

All you have to do is walk up to a bar, you’ll see people milling about wearing ridiculous over-sized conference badges, just like the one around your neck. Stick out your hand and say, “Hi, I’m so-and-so with such-and-such company. Who are you and what do you do?” You’re off to the races.

There are countless ways to meet people, to have great discussions. To share ideas, and to learn.

Connect is aptly named. Take advantage and make real, lasting connections with amazing people. The opportunities for this are endless.

Just remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t go all-in on Day 1. Pace yourself. Hydrate (with something other than alcohol). Decompress every once and awhile. Wear comfortable shoes.

Oh, and watch out for the Australians. Some of those folks are a bit crazy, have ridiculous levels of energy and a way of sucking you into shenanigans you may later regret. Kidding, mostly. The Aussies as a whole are some of my favorite people. Another plus for ICNY is that it’s not just attended by folks from around the U.S., it is a worldwide event and audience.

A family visit planned long ago will prevent me from attending this year’s ICNY, but I will be there in spirit. Despite having attended 16 previous events, I will suffer from serious FOMO (fear of missing out).

As an attendee, you will get to experience speakers, keynote addresses and panels serving up data, information, tips and tactics that can directly impact your business. You’ll get to meet new friends that can directly impact your life. On top of all that, you get to experience all Midtown Manhattan offers.

What really happens at ICNY? Inman nailed it with, “It’s where ideas are nurtured, tribes are found, and careers are built.”

Go. Learn, enjoy, discover. Meet new people and strengthen existing relationships. Eat, drink and be merry. Yes, ICNY is an investment in time and money, and it is well worth it.

Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree who lives in the Texas Coastal Bend, as well as the one spinning the wheels at Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty. “Retired (sort of) but not dead,” Jay speaks around the world on many things real estate.

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