imagesThis weekend I was thrilled to travel to Tulsa, Oklahoma to attend the 2011 Clarion Awards Dinner at the National Association for Women in Communications Conference. My book, Press Pause Moments: Essays about Life Transitions by Women Writers, had won the Clarion in the books & cd-roms/dvds category.

Because the trip would come out of my business budget I had to make some tough decisions. First, I simply couldn’t afford the cost or time away to attend the whole conference, which lasted Thurday through the Saturday evening dinner. This was disappointing as a big reason to travel to any professional function is the valuable networking you get to do. Second, I was really proud of the book and of winning the award and knew I had to figure out some way to accept in person.

I decided to travel in for the Awards dinner only. If I caught an early Saturday morning flight from the east coast, I could arrive with plenty of time to get ready, attend the evening event, sleep in, and catch a flight out in the afternoon. But I had to figure out in advance how to make the best use of that time to meet as many people as possible and hear their stories, as well as share mine with them.

I often advise and mentor professional women and writers to think about how they’ll get the most out of any professional event or networking opportunity before they step into the room. Even for those who may be considered extroverts, simply shaking hands and holding an interesting conversation isn’t enough. As well, the time shared at the event itself isn’t the only time to connect – remember, from the moment you start your journey to the moment you’re home is an opportunity to meet someone who might represent a mutually beneficial situation to help each other.

Here’s some of the tips I thought about while getting my Clarion:

  • Come prepared. Know what you want to get out of your time in advance. I knew I wanted to expand visibility for the book as well as connect with AWC for possible speaking opportunities in the future.
  • Get organized. Remember, when people are traveling they don’t have a lot of space to carry things. Don’t hand out bulky samples or paper. Have business cards ready to give out. I have several and I pre-organized so I could easily pull them out of my purse and hand them out.
  • Use technology and social media. Clearly Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have made it easier to instantly connect with people you meet at professional events. Whereas business card information is usually entered into one’s contact list when they get home, connecting online gives you immediate access. One woman, who carried around her iPad, input my email address directly into her contacts, and connected with me via LinkedIn and FB as we talked.
  • Ask questions. I love to ask questions about what other people do. Often I find connections that might not have on the surface seemed to have made any sense. I make sure I stay open to possibilities.
  • Pay attention during your travels. Sometimes the best networking is as you travel. I ended up on the hotel shuttle to the airport with two women who also attended the conference. As we talked, not only did I find out that we were all on the same flight but one of them was a board member of AWC! One of my specific goals in attending was to connect with someone involved at the national level.
  • Always be “on.” I dress comfortably when I travel, often without a lot of makeup or accessories. But I dress neatly and professionally because you never know who you might meet. If you’re travel is in any way connected to your professional persona, make sure you are comfortable with how you come across if you meet your next important contact!

I am so happy I made it to Tulsa! I was so proud to step up and receive my award. The guest speaker and honoree was writer Billie Letts whose words were so inspirational. And I met a lot of great women with whom I’m now connected. Make the most of your professional travel – and have fun!