Each year, at the end of May, thousands of business leaders from Detroit travel north along I-75 and across the Straits of Mackinac to Mackinac Island, Mich. and The Detroit Regional Chamber's Annual Mackinac Policy Conference (#MPC15).
For four years, as the Chamber's federal lobbyist I helped organize this event and for many years after, I have attended this annual gathering with clients and for clients.
Mackinac Island (a former client of mine) is an amazing place that is unmatched anywhere in the world. Motorized vehicles are forbidden meaning the only way to get around the Island is by foot, bike or horse, and that is after getting there only by boat or plan (or snowmobile in the winter months).
Mackinac Island is the site of the Detroit Regional Chamber in part because of its Island charm, distance from Detroit (4 hours) and unique environment that lends its self to "extreme networking."
The Detroit Regional Chamber often releases a list conference participants to those who are registered. Everyone is on the Island to network and to reconnect away from the office so make the best use of that list, review it and try to reach out to the people that you must meet with while create another list of people you want to meet with and another list of people who I could bump into.
With each list create an ask. Why do you want to meet that person. What do you want to accomplish in an introductory conversation and what will you ask for at the end. At the Mackinac Policy Conference, your goal should not be to sell anything. Your purpose should be only to start the conversation and develop a relationship.
Most often, the value in the conference is not in the sessions themselves, but for the occasional national speaker. I have done more in avoiding the sessions and staying active on the porch or in the various restaurants and cafes on the Island. The true value in attending the Mackinac Policy Conference is in the side conversations on the ferry ride to the Island, the Grand Hotel’s historic porch, on the horse carriage rides down Main Street or at Horn’s or the Pink Pony late in the evening.
For those new to the conference, here are a few additional tips that I have learned over the years to getting the most out of your time attending the Mackinac Policy Conference.
- Have a plan. Are you going to the conference to develop new business, network or learn more about the region? Whatever your purpose for attending the #MPC you should have a plan and an agenda in mind. In creating that plan, create a list of people whom you must meet, would like to meet and would be great to meet if we bumped into each other. That way you have some idea of who you want to meet and why? So once you make your way down the gang plank and into the ferry, you can start networking.
- Prepare. Once you make your list of must meets, should meet, and would be great to meets, research their company and their backgrounds so that you are prepared to find something to establish a connection to them when you see them.
- It’s who you know. The best way to meet people is through the people you already know. It gives you instant credibility and an instant point of identification. If you don’t know people then make sure you look at their nametag – but don’t make it obvious.
- Stop selling and start relating. One of the worst things you can do on the Island is to give a sales pitch. You will have ample opportunity to meet people and even talk several times with people on your “must meet” list. As a result, you want to start building a relationship. We all like to do business with people we can get a long with. So build the relationship first, the business will come soon thereafter.
- Be prepared to be spontaneous. One of the best things about this event is just meeting the people you run into walking to The Grand Hotel or hanging out at Horn’s or The Pink Pony. You are guaranteed to run into someone you want to meet, so just go with the flow.
- Use twitter to connect. The Mackinac Policy Conference does a great job of leveraging social media, so join the conversation. First download the conference app and then start following the conversation on Twitter using #MPC15. Read the posts and once the conference starts, join in the conversation.
- Bring money. This conference is not cheap, but well worth the investment. And one of the things that makes this conference so worthwhile, are all the events outside of the conference itself. You should already be in receipt of a number of receptions throughout the conference, sponsored by lobbyists and organized by companies and or candidates. This year, expect fundraisers for Members of Congress, State House and Senate Leadership, perhaps Mayor or someone’s leadership PAC. If you do not pay in advance, you can promise to pay later and I suggest you attend.
- Never eat alone. This is not the time nor place for that. Always look to have a meal with someone and if you are not staying at the Grand Hotel, find the time to have breakfast there. The network is fabulous early in the morning, before the day’s events begin not to mention the breathtaking views of the Straits.
- Keep in Touch. Don’t loose contact with those whom you met. Keep in touch with them. Find excuses to call them or email them something based upon your conversation. If you make the ask, you need to follow through. Every evening during the conference, sit down to write a personal note to those whom you met or send them an email.
- We are in business to make connections and this conference is all about connecting us to one another and reconnecting us to the region. Enjoy #MPC15 and I will look for you on the porch of the Grand Hotel.