Tuesday 4 July 2023

Yahoo! How to Thrive in the Stampede 2023 Networking Marathon

Make a great first impression at Calgary Stampede events!

Written by Robyn T. Braley

In any networking opportunity, we like to say that first impressions are everything! But bad behavior can make the kind of lasting impression you don't want.  

Don't be known as the cowboy or cowgirl who threw up on the boss's cowboy boots. That will definitely be remembered! 

The Calgary Stampede is billed as the greatest outdoor show on earth. It's also a city-wide networking marathon. 

Stampede is hard to describe to people who have never experienced one. The city-wide celebration is much more than an event confined to a geographic location.

While 1.3 million+ will pass through Stampede Park turnstiles for the 10-day exhibition for the all-star rodeo, exciting chuck wagon races, music concerts, and agricultural fair, the celebration of western spirit spreads like wildfire through the city.

Companies spend thousands of PR dollars to make their events ones to remember. Being on the invite list gives access to people you would never otherwise meet.

Company presidents join 100’s of employees wearing cowboy hats, shirts, blue jeans and boots. Stampede is a time for building relationships with employees, clients, suppliers and the community.

Canada's Party Central

Free hospitality is a big part of most celebrations. While some corporate events are by invitation only, others are open to the public. Visitors are always surprised when I explain that you don’t need too big of a network to be able to attend breakfasts and barbecues for the entire 10 days without paying for a single meal.

Just drive through city center or an industrial area. It won't be long until you find people lined up in a parking lot ready for pancakes, sausage and coffee. Just pull over, join the line, meet some new contacts, and enjoy Western hospitality usually accompanied by an upbeat country band. 

I will usually attend 20 events. They may be hosted by clients, suppliers, professional or trade associations, religious groups, or local businesses. 

There may be 4-5 must-attend events that overlap. You drop by, be seen by people who you want to be seen by, shake a few hands, and head for the next event. By the middle of the week, you are ready to swear off pancakes for the rest of your life. Well, until the next morning anyway!

Politicians may have 13 - 20 stops per day with appearances from early morning until late at night. They usually have communications people with them who will gladly exchange business cards with you to provide access to politicians who are often hard to meet.

Major Events

Stampede events may accommodate anywhere from a few hundred to 14-15 thousand. Well-known pop and country stars fly in and out of Calgary without anyone but the party guests knowing they were here.

Our Chinook Shopping Centre has an annual breakfast for 50,000 people. It is a finely tuned and highly organized pancake factory and people management system. They rent moving and refrigeration trucks to house large commercial pancake mixing machines and store bags of four and other ingredients. 

Networking on Steroids

To reap the full benefit of networking opportunities, you must understand the basics. First, develop a strategy. 

Start by identifying the company officials you want to meet. I’m in marketing so I always aim for the Marketing VP or the company owner.

If you're not sure who those people are, do some research on LinkedIn or the company website. LinkedIn profiles have information that provides conversation starters.

Set an informal goal for the number of contacts you’d like to make at each event. Even if you don’t meet the company president, someone you talk with may provide a portal into their company at a later date.  

Dress Up Time

Stampede time is dress-up time. This is the time to pretend we are cowboys and cowgirls. Wearing the proper gear makes a statement about your company or personal brand.

Be warned! If you wear a suit, shirt, and tie, it will be assumed you are from somewhere else and didn’t get the memo. You will feel very out of place. 

Most people have a pair of blue jeans. Invest in a cheap cowboy hat, cowboy boots and two western shirts you can rotate through the laundry.

Cowboy boots are key. If you're strapped for cash, search in second-hand stores or Kijiji for a used pair. Running or dress shoes don’t cut it and will be noticed.

If your world feels like it's spiraling out of control, stop whatever you are doing!

Messy Food, Free Booze, and Wild Behavior

The last piece of advice is perhaps the most important. There are mountains of free food. Find a place to sit down to eat messy beans and cut your pancakesand sausages. Standing up while holding a paper plate is an invitation for disaster. 

Alcohol isn't always your friend! For corporate events, there are also fountains of free booze. Moderation is the key here.

Videos of you and that unknown other person dancing naked on a table wearing only your hat while hundreds cheer you on will probably not enhance your personal brand. It could very well be a career buster.

Know this! From the midst of the cheering crowd, a photo, video or both will be uploaded by a stranger to YouTube or, Instagram or social media sites you may have never heard of before you can sober up enough to cover your – shall we say - delicate area with your hat.

Free alcohol + party buzz + Stampede spirit + lowered inhibitions = a very sad ending

Taking it Social

Social media can also be a positive Stampede networking tool. Selfies of you with the Prime Minister, your company president, a potential customer, political, sports, and other celebrities, existing clients, the sales team, and others provide great conversation starters. All will attend various breakfasts, lunch, or evening barbecues during Stampede 2023. 


Quick Tips

  1. Draw up a target list of corporate or association events you want to attend where there will be people you want to meet before Stampede begins.
  2. Show up. You can’t network if you are not there.
  3. Creative a killer elevator speech. 
  4. Dress the part. Stampede is the time to pretend you are a cow person. 
  5. Extend your right hand and say your name. People automatically return the favor.
  6. Prepare conversation starters about the weather, sports or other relevant topics. Keep it light. Tips
  7. Employ Active Listening skills.
  8. Avoid hot-button topics like politics, ethnic comments, or shady stories. 
  9. Know when to start talking business and when to stop. Click here for 8 tips.
  10. Be authentic and likable. Don't be annoying.
  11. Rehearse an exit strategy. Extend your hand and end the conversation with, “Bill, it’s been great meeting you…”
  12. Take business cards everywhere. Organize them in one pocket so you can retrieve them facing the right way.
  13. Place those you receive in the other pocket. Prevents meeting a significant decision-maker, exchanging cards, and accidentally pulling out the card of their biggest competitor who happens to be attending the same event. Awkward!
Robyn T. Braley is a brand specialist, writer, and speaker. He is also the co-founder and President of Unimark Creative Inc. He publishes monthly posts on BrandIt With Robyn.

Twitter: @robyntbraley
Blogsite: www.branditwithrobyn.com

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