Special Podcast: Successful Networking (at the Conference and Beyond!) with Laura Schwartz

Laura Schwartz headshot“Our jobs are nine to five, but our careers are 24/7.”

Laura Schwartz, a former director of events at the White House and author of Eat, Drink & Succeed! Climb Your Way to the Top Using the Networking Power of Social Events, shares stories and useful tips for anyone preparing to attend the Conference—or any social event, for that matter. Listen to the 30-minute session, presented by Cisco, below. 

Key Takeaways:

– Big things can happen in the most unexpected places. Gatherings offer an opportunity to share your challenges, search for solutions, and share your successes. You never know who you’re going to meet or what opportunities will arise when you just show up. 

– From your closest friends to the PTA – there is power in your social network. Take the time to think about who your connections are, where they’ve been, where they’re going—and you’ll be in a better position to utilize your network.

Tips for Success:

– Going to the Conference alone? That can be intimidating but you can manage by starting the day off right – walk up and meet someone at registration. There are opportunities to make connections everywhere, from the morning keynote session to the exhibit hall.

– Do your research. Check out the Twitter feeds and LinkedIn profiles of speakers and local leaders you know will be at the Conference. Look for commonalities.

– Turn off the tv and read a newspaper; learn something about the place you’re going. Be interesting. Even more important, take stock of yourself before you start meeting others – who am I? Where am I going and why?

– Write up some goals for the Conference – meeting x # of people, asking someone a certain question, practicing your conversation skills (and don’t forget those listening skills!).

– Show up on time, be positive, and don’t forget your business cards! (Of course make sure they’re current and reflect the image you want to project.)

Plus, tips for calming yourself, staying focused, and reading others’ body language to find opportunities to start conversation.

View Transcript

Conferences for Women

Successful Networking (at the Conference and Beyond!)

Guest: Laura Schwartz

Interviewer: Karen Breslau


Karen: Welcome to the Conference for Women teleclass: Successful Networking at the Conference and Beyond. Our guest today is Laura Schwartz, author of Eat, Drink and Succeed: Climb Your Way to the Top Using the Networking Power of Social Events. Every social interaction is an opportunity for career development. Based on this philosophy and on her book, Eat, Drink and Succeed, Laura will teach conference attendees strategies to use to build partnerships and excel both during and in-between conference events. Whether you’re approaching registration, attending a class, walking in the exhibit hall or socializing, Laura will help you take every facet of the conference and make it work to your full advantage.

Laura provides the tools, tips and techniques that motivate attendees to capitalize on all social and business interactions at the conference, so that you can turn relationships into partnerships and ideas into reality. We’ll be sharing highlights from today’s call on Twitter. You can follow along and join the conversation @Pennwomen, @Texaswomen and @Masswomen and you can find Laura Schwartz @LauraSchwartz. (That’s Schwartz, with a T.) Laura Schwartz, welcome to the Conference for Women teleclass.


Laura: Thank you Karen. It is such an honor to be here and to see what is ahead at all these Conferences for Women around the country. It’s great to be a part of this because of the incredible empowerment that the Conferences for Women is. I believe an important way we empower each other is indeed through partnerships. And you know many of them are made around a table. And that table is not always in the boardroom. It could be in the dining room. It can be a power lunch or it can be a snack on the soccer game field over the weekend. It’s all about the networking power of social events, of which the tools apply to our offices, our communities, our neighborhoods, our homes.

They’re all translatable and I truly believe that a powerful guest, for example, is one that gets more out of any event than just the free food and drink. It is the guest that is able to eat, drink and succeed that is most powerful. And we all have that opportunity at the Conferences for Women and in our every day. Over my eight years behind the scenes at the White House, during the Clinton administration as the director of events, I got to let you know I saw a lot of people come and they ate and they drank and they left with the White House towels stuffed in their pockets. But then I saw others come. Other that came and they ate and they drank, and they met people that they were able to form relationships and take that into partnerships. They had ideas that they indeed were able to turn into reality. And never was that so apparent than the ‘94 state dinner with Boris Yeltsin.

You see, it’s always interesting with the guest list for a state dinner. Because you’ve got the dignitaries, themselves, the delegations from the visiting countries, as well as America; politicos and administration officials, great philanthropists, entrepreneurs. And at this one particular dinner in 1994, one of the guests was Steven Spielberg. And he arrived in black tie. His wife, Kate Capshaw had on a beautiful gown, and they were having cocktails and in great conversation with a lot of the different attendees from all walks of life all around the world. And they started talking to two other guys and got on real well, had a great time. Continued the conversation after dinner. And here they were in the grand foyer during dancing, kind of huddled in the corner talking with each other.

Well these two other guys just happened to be David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg. And 13 days later, they announced DreamWorks. Mr. Spielberg talks about it in his book and he says “Here we were, three shmucks from Hollywood, standing six feet away from Clinton and Yeltsin, who were probably talking nuclear proliferation and we’re thinking, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great to make a move studio?” And they did. And that idea-, those negotiations weren’t in a studio lot in Hollywood; they weren’t even in a boardroom. But they were at the White House at a state dinner in Washington.

But of course we don’t all go to state dinners. But we obviously, as we are attending soon, the Conference for Women. At conferences we have just incredible opportunities all around us. And it was a few years ago at a media conference, that now Senator, then Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey, was at a conference just like the rest of us attending educational sessions, going to the lunches, checking emails during breaks. And that evening there was a dinner. And many of us could say “I just want to have that remote control to myself. I’m going back to the room.” “I’ve got to catch up on my emails, I’ve got to check my voicemails. I am just going to try to get caught up work tonight. I’m going to skip that social function. That happy hour that they’re having tonight, that dinner, I’m skipping that and getting some work done.”

Well, he took the initiative to go down to that dinner. He arrived and had a seat at the table ready for him and he took the seat. And there he was surrounded by nine other individuals from all different kinds of industries around the country and they had conversation. And in the course of conversation, just like the Conferences for Women allow us, they were able to share their challenges, look for solutions and celebrate their success, which I believe is the trifecta of any conference or event. And that can be the Conference for Women. It can be a conversation in your home. It can be at a power lunch. But this is the opportunity to do just that.

Share your challenges. Don’t think that makes you look weak because that is how we learn. And then search for solutions with those around you and celebrate that success. And that’s what Mayor Cory Booker back then did at that table. Well they had great conversation throughout the evening. Afterwards, they exchanged business cards. And he met that night and happened to be sat next to a guy named Marc Zuckerberg. Well they got on real well, two months go by and all of a sudden Mark Zuckerberg got wind about this movie The Social Network. And he knew it didn’t depict him in a great light and he was looking to do something. And he didn’t think back to a meeting or correspondence, but he thought back to that dinner when he met that mayor of Newark, New Jersey, who talked about the challenges the public school system was going through. And he thought to himself “You know what? That was a sharp man. That was an interesting issue. That’s what I’m going to do.” And he gave $100 million to the Newark Public School district.

Thank goodness Mayor Booker had the foresight to attend that dinner. Mark Zuckerberg I’m sure had Facebook messages to get back to. He went to that dinner. Something we might think it’s just a “Oh, it’s an optional event.” But it’s not, it is an opportunity.

And even when we’re not at conferences. Oprah Winfrey, for example, was out on a date with a wonderful man, God rest his soul, Roger Ebert at a Hamburger Hamlet joint, a burger joint in Chicago. They were on a date and it’s on that date when she said “Roger, can I ask you a question?” And she had a dilemma facing her because she had a possible deal with ABC, and she also had one that came across from King World. She really wasn’t sure which way she would go, so she talked about it with Roger on that date. They make calculations on a napkin and he slid that napkin over to her after that conversation. She looked at it and she said “I’m going with King World.”

You know, she made the most professional decision of her entire life on a date and has affected others through that. So it just shows that we could be anywhere, in black tie, in no tie and make that conversation happen that could change our life, or it could very well change someone else’s life. And for me that truly is the positive power of networking. And when we look at networking, sometimes-, I didn’t even put in the title of the book, the main title, because it can have a bit of a manipulative connotation to it all. It can make us feel just like somebody is just trying to get something from you or they’re going to work the room. And you feel like they’re working you.

But when we look at networking in a positive way, we find out that networking is all about what I can do for you. An approach that asks herself: What do they need that I can give them? What kind of bridge in my life do I have that I can offer them to get across to lead them to where they’re meant to go, where they want to go, whether that be professionally or personally. And it’s something that I think, in looking back in history, and we look at the great speeches, and I love the history of our country. And a great speech we’re all familiar with is President Kennedy’s inauguration speech. “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” And it lives in every conversation we have in our lives. In our homes, at work, after work, at a charity event, at an activity on the weekend. To look to somebody and say “What can I do for you?”

And we find that out through conversation. And we find that out through productive conversations we have focus. And focus is incredibly important. It goes hand-in-hand with the positive definition of networking so that we can make the most out of every conversation. But it’s tough to do. There are so many things going on in life at any one given time. From the picking up and dropping off, sickness, illness, political strife, struggles around the world that impact us here at home, in our homes, that we really need to concentrate on being present.

Well, I learned about focus from President Clinton. And I’ll never forget, it was my first event in the East Room, as the director of events. And it was a bill signing. And everything was in place in the East Room. The chairs were set, the table was up on the stage for the bill signing, itself. The big podium, the Presidential podium was there in front of the gold curtain of that magnificent East Room. There were risers in the back for the press. The Marine Band, the President’s own, was in the grand foyer to play entrance music, and later on the ruffles and flourishes from the herald trumpets would start.

So I looked around and everything was in place and I knew there were some guests getting together at the East gate. So I said “Go ahead, open the gate. We’re all ready to go.” Guests start coming up, the music’s playing, they take their seats, I found the participants that would be on stage with the President. I walk them through the program, introduce them to each other. And then I took them over to the Blue Room. That’s just off the Cross Hall and the State Floor down the hall from the East Room. There, they could relax, get to know each other and then once the President arrived we would do the briefing once again and begin the event. So sure enough, the room’s filling up, looking good, we’re getting close to on time for the event. So I go ahead and I say “All right, let’s bring the press up.” Press comes up, they file in the back, they’re ready to go, the guests are seated. They’re ready to go.

I ask the colonel of the Marine Band to bring up the herald trumpets for the ruffles and flourishes, the grand announce into the East Room. They’re in place in the grand foyer. The one problem I had was that there was no President. And that’s because the President was notorious for being late. In fact, we called it CST, Clinton Standard Time, which was late. And still today they call it CST. But I’ve got to tell you, once he finally arrived, I briefed him, brought him in the Blue Room, introduced him to the guests. But before I cued the colonel of the Marine Band, because, man, once you cue ruffles and flourishes, you know, ta da da da da da raaaa, tat ta dat, there is no going back.

So I looked at the President one last time and I just said “Sir, are you ready?” And he looked at me and he said “Laura, it’s show time!” And I thought “Show time, what is this show time? This is not a show, this is an event. I worked very hard on this event.” But I thought what better to have your boss in a good mood, than not, right? So, the event goes off and it goes very well, very happy with it. And afterwards, later that afternoon, there’s just a small event happening over in the West Wing, in the Cabinet Room, sort of like the boardroom of the White House. And it’s just off the assistant’s office outside the Oval Office, right there in the same little corridor. And we were briefing the President in the oval about the small event in the cabinet room, but there were going to be a couple of cameras there.

Well, we walked out of the Oval Office through the assistant’s office, into that side door. But before I opened it for him to walk in, I simply said very casually, “Mr. President, are you good to go?” And he looked at me and just in that casual voice he said “Laura, it’s show time.” And there it was again. That show time. And then I realized, I realized that he wasn’t saying it to be funny, he wasn’t being flippant about it, it was his way to get into focus.

Because the reason he was always late, wasn’t because he was lazy. It’s because when I was in the East Room getting ready for the event and we were ready to go, he was wrapping up a briefing on national security. And on his way walking over to the residence down the west colonnade he gets pulled aside because there is a vote going up on Capitol Hill. He’s got to make a few calls. Or I could start briefing him and all of a sudden there’s a head of state on the phone and you know you got to take those calls.

The President, just like every one of us, is a multi tasker. And by saying “It’s show time,” was his way to get into focus to effectively communicate that message for the next 20 minutes, that next hour or that next three hours. By not forgetting about everything else that’s going on, but just putting it aside for that moment to be focused on the message in the moment at hand. And I realized, you know, I could put some of that show time to work in my own life.

The next day we had another event similar to the East Room, but in the Rose Garden. But this day after everything was set before I que’ed the gates to open over at the East Wing, I said to myself “Laura, it’s show time.” And you know what? That was my moment to take my details from my office, the messages that I needed to answer and the voicemail that was full, the event the next day, the state dinner the next week, and instead of thinking about all of that, I just put it to the side for that hour. And even though that event the day before I felt went really well, this was better. I learned more from it. I gave more to it.

And it really taught me that the show time, this focus philosophy, could work in my personal life as well. I used to walk in to my cousins’ birthday parties or holiday celebrations, back in Wisconsin while I was living in DC. I’d be back just for a couple of days and I go to see the family and I had that phone right next to me. I checked that phone. I’d check it just out of habit. And you know what, whenever I checked the phone, I checked out of conversation. And I would go home that night thinking “Oh wait, what’s going on with this nephew? Or what’s going on with this cousin?” And I realized I need to put some of that show time in my life.

And that’s what I did. I checked that phone and I would put in my coat and I’d hang it up. I’d sit down at that table and, boy, I was present. I heard conversation, I led the conversation, I was a part of conversation. And I felt great after I left. So I realized that show time effectively means that we must be present. And how many times have we gotten those raffle tickets where on the back of it said you must be present to win? I remember growing up all the time as a kid at the church auction or at the Ducks Unlimited function, you get the raffle ticket: must be present to win. And that’s true. Because we must be present to win, whether that’s at the table with our children, in the workplace, amidst a challenge, in the community. We must be present to win.

And whenever we walk into any situation, if we can be in focus and we can say “It’s show time,” and take everything else that’s happening, not forget about it, but just put it to the side for that meeting, that encounter, that 15 minutes. Those 15 minutes could be the 15 minutes that will change our life or change somebody else’s life.

But we can’t just walk into a room, we can’t just say, cross that threshold at the conference center and say “It’s show time,” and expect a five star event, and that we will in fact eat, drink and succeed. We got to work towards it. We got to work towards it, just like an actor has to before they walk out on stage for the first time.

A couple of tips to leave you with, from setting the scene, just like an actor has got to get a feel for the scene and what’s going on with that scene and how it all relates to each other, we are able to do the same thing in our life. Because, for example, our scenes aren’t limited just to the office and our home. Our social scenes, which are the areas of which we’re active, we have to think about who’s active in them with us. What do they do? Where are they from? Where do they want to go?

And all of a sudden we see these bridges that connect our scenes and that can connect other people to what they need in life. Because I truly believe that, as we help others, we achieve ourselves. And maybe that scene is our inner circle, of which you’ve got a few good friends or family that we know we can count on. That we know have connections to other areas that we need to tap into for somebody else or ourselves. The scene that centers around our children and the parents of their friends and the different committees you sit on at the school, next to someone you otherwise never would have met before in your life.

Same thing in neighborhood and service organizations, where people from all different sectors come together because of passion and a mission for a cause. Charity and nonprofit, professional organizations within the industry, clubs and leagues, there are many opportunities that we have if we sit down and do a bit of a social diagram of where we are involved and then who’s involved in there with us. Where do they go to school, what do they do? All of a sudden we start seeing that at every age we have a powerful social scene. As long as we define it, we can tap into it. And that makes a great difference in our lives, and the lives of others. And then, just like an actor you want to have a casting call. You want to look for the right event.

And by the way, this is where I always like to stress, we look-, and as I said, Mayor Cory Booker could have seen this conference dinner as optional. But he saw it as an opportunity. And once we look at things not as optional, but as opportunities, then we create the moments that will change a life including ours. If you look at the incredible agenda for the Conferences for Women, it’s listed as the Agenda at a Glance. I personally believe it is Opportunities at a Glance. From that registration, where you can go up and, when you’re a party of one, sometimes it can be difficult.

Maybe we don’t have the confidence. Maybe we’re just not that social butterfly. And that is okay. You do not have to be a social butterfly to really connect to the power of networking. And so you can walk up and meet somebody at registration. Go sit in the opening keynote next to someone you’ve never met before, even if you’ve gone there with friends. Same thing for all the rest of the sessions. The lunch and the book signing. Really go in that career pavilion. Not because you’re just going to drop by to see what it’s all about. But you’re going to go and you’re going to be involved.

Same thing in that exhibit hall all day. The conversations are all around you. The opportunities are right there for you. And the opportunity can start before you even go. Not like talking about a dress rehearsal. I love getting ready for events. Sometimes you put on some make-up or you change clothes, or maybe you take your make-up off and you put your short and a T-shirt on to go for a run with the running group. Whatever it may be, we can get ready in a way of which starts with research.

The neat thing is, you know the speakers that are going to be at the conferences and other organizations that are sponsors, and other people in your community that are going to be there. Well hey, check out their Twitter feed and see what’s trending. Take a look at their Facebook and see what they post about. Is it flowers? Do they just love flowers? Do they post about an organization they’re very involved in? What are their kids’ sporting activities? What is it? The same thing with LinkedIn to find their professional background. We can make a connection before that conversation. And that connection is what is going to solidify that conversation.

But I always stress there’s a fine line between networking and stalking. And so, you’re looking at this for just good information and you know what, when you already have a connection that exist that you know off, that you can organically discuss. Same thing with the power of knowledge. Hey, before you go instead of always just listening, and I love sitcoms, I love that Seinfeld is on at any time of day and any times all around the world in many languages. But you know what, it’s much better if I’m listening to the news behind me so that when I get somewhere and have a conversation I can be the one that breaks news and not just reacts to the news.

And you know what, instead of relying on the weather to open a conversation, hey, take a look, Google the location you’re going to. Find out something interesting or historic or fascinating about it so that you can start a conversation about this incredible place that you happen to be instead of “Hey, it’s really hot out there.” You’re able to at that point empower people with great information that hey, they’re going to reuse in conversations all day. It shoots your credibility up right away and is a foundation for a conversation.

To have that business card with you and you want to keep these things current and accessible. Make sure they’re not in the car, but they’re in your purse. There is a purse out there right now, that has a little business card holder on the outside of it. It’s convenient, it’s easy. And these things are not expensive. Make sure your office keeps them up to date. And if you’re an entrepreneur yourself, there are some great resources out there where they are next to nothing. Because you want to hand somebody yourself.

Because after you’re done with that event, no matter what it may be, on the weekends, or at work, or in the evenings, that’s what that person is going to have on their desk the next day. Or in their pocket the next time they wear those pants. And you want to make sure that it represents you well. There’s no line through the phone number and new one written in. And then make your goals before you go. We always do when it’s an agenda four board meeting and we don’t leave until we check them off. So make some goals for the conferences for women and for your everyday interactions. Whether that be a couple of questions you want to ask somebody or two people you want to meet or it’s just that “Hey, I want to exercise my ability to start a conversation, so I’m going to have one new conversation today.”

Or maybe I’m going to exchange two business cards. Start there. And then lastly it’s the power of you. We always know where we are because of GPS in our lives. But do we always know who we are? We are going in so many different directions, which is wonderful directions. But at the same time we want to make sure that we ask ourselves a couple of questions every week. Who am I? Why am I here?

There’s a magnificent quote from a vice President from the days back in ’92 by Admiral Stockdale, Ross Perot’s running mate. He opened the vice presidential debate with that question and it got a lot of laughs, but it is truly profound. We may ask ourselves that question and find out we are exactly who we want to be and where we need to be or we may find out that, this is who I am and I want to be this person, but this is not what I want to be doing. Or maybe this isn’t the relationship I want to be in. When we better know who we are, we better know what we have to give to ourselves, our families, community, industry and beyond. So ask yourself that and you’ll be ready to go because then it’s show time. And you want to show up on time because that early bird does get that worm.

You want to be positive no matter how difficult your day might be. Because when you’re positive people see you in a much more credible light. They want to be around you. They want to continue the conversation with you. And there is so many great tools you can use along the way at the conference and in your every day, especially when it comes to listening. Larry King once said “I never learned anything while I was talking.” And he’s right. We learn when we listen. And at the Conferences for Women you will have that change to listen, to learn, to give back, to empower and have the conversation even if they’re only a couple of minutes, that may change your life or someone else’s.

Because even though we might think our jobs are nine to five, our careers are 24/7. And we represent ourselves everywhere we are every day. And that’s something I’m proud of. Because the women that especially want to be involved that are listening to the teleclass today, want to empower each other while empowering themselves and I think that is just incredible. And I’m thrilled to be a part of it. And Karen, the conferences make such a difference in people’s lives. And if we walk in to those conferences and to our meetings and to our events after work, knowing that we could change somebody’s life, that we can truly eat, drink and succeed, then we will.


Karen: Laura, this is just wonderful. I have been listening carefully and I feel like I have learned so much. I want to just take a moment for a couple of questions that we got. People are very interested. A lot of people say that they feel overwhelmed before going in to an event. And you talk about the need for research, for getting the power of knowledge, for setting your goals. What do you do in that moment right before the event starts where you might feel overwhelmed. How do you gather yourself and get present?


Laura: Very good question, Karen. Number one, as you can imagine, I say “Laura, it’s show time.” And I take a deep breath and I recall the research that I’ve done. Because I find that when I’m prepared I can be confident. And I am often a party of one. And even doing what I do, it can still be overwhelming when you’re about to walk into this room. So I try to rely on my research. That brings me confidence and I also rely on body language. I look for those conversations that may be an odd number of people, three people or five people. I look to see if somebody in that conversation might even have a foot that’s angling out of the circle, so to speak, which means they’re open to other conversations. Maybe they’re looking for other conversations.

And so I approach approachable situations. And you start to read that. And it starts to become very natural. And again that all goes to confidence. And it may take a few minutes once you get into the room, but man, after you’ve had that first conversation, you’re thinking “Okay, this is good. I can do this.” And each time it will get a bit better and you will be stronger, and you will help everybody else be stronger for themselves as well.


Karen: Great advice. And then a number of questions dealing with something you touched on, and that is the role that digital communications play in our lives and the way that they might interfere with networking. It is so hard for us to be present and we feel the pull of our devices all the time. So, you put it in your pocket, you put the coat away. What else can you do to free your mind so that you are in the room with the people you’re with.


Laura: I simply make sure I turn off and leave it somewhere else. Whether I’m checking my coat, I’m going to check my phone with it, but not my business cards. And-, or like I said, leaving it in a pocket. But it’s right there and you want to go for it. But I tell you, the moment you’re in conversation and you’re focused on that person, and you’re listening to them, it’s amazing how much less you’re listening for your little ringer to go off, or the next text to come in. And when it comes to social networking, it is an incredible tool. But I just do not feel that it is a substitute for face-to-face conversations.

It helps us prepare. It helps us continue the conversation between in-person meetings, or conversations on the phone, or on Skype and so forth. But I just don’t see it as the substitute. Connecting with somebody after an event, again, is phenomenal, because it keeps that conversation going until next time. But I urge you to practice putting it down. Whether that just be for 30 minutes and you go check it, fine. But it’s going to start getting you into practice and that’s positive.


Karen: Great. So Laura Schwartz, thank you so much for your advice and your wonderful stories today. You can learn more from Laura in her book, Eat, Drink and Succeed: Climb Your Way to the Top Using the Networking Power of Social Events, and we’ll see you at the conferences.