Thursday, 7 July 2022

Yahoo! What You Need to Know to Survive the Stampede 2022 Networking Marathon

Make a great first impression at Calgary Stampede events!

Written by Robyn T. Braley

First impressions are everything. But so are last impressions. Make sure both are the best that they can be! 

Don't be known as, that guy or gal 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 Calgary Stampede is a city-wide celebration than an event confined to a geographic location.

While 1.3 million+ will pass through the Stampede Park turnstiles for the 10-day exhibition, all-star rodeo and agricultural fair, a celebration of western heritage and community 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.

Calgary is Party Central

Free hospitality is a big part of most celebrations. Some corporate events are by invitation only, but others are open to the public. Visitors are incredulous 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 along a street in city centre or an industrial area. Find a couple of hundred 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 accompanied by an upbeat country band. 

Each year I have 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!

Political people may have up to 13 - 20 stops per day. They somehow make appearances from early morning until late at night. They usually have communications people with them who will gladly exchange business cards giving you access to that politician at a later date.

There are event sites all over the city of Calgary that 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 trucks where they put commercial pancake mixing machines and store bags of four and other ingredients. 

Networking on Steroids

To reap the full benefit of company networking opportunities, you must understand the basics. 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 give you conversation starters for when you finally meet them.

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

First impressions are everything. While you edge towards conversations about your company you are also making a statement about your personal brand..  

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

This is dress-up time. We all pretend we are cowboys and cowgirls. 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 spiralling out of control, stop whattever you are doing!

Messy Food, Booze and Free Spirits

The last piece of advice is perhaps the most important. I’ve mentioned the mountains of free food. Find a place to sit down to eat messy beans and cut your pancakes. Standing up holding a paper plate is an invitation for disaster. 

For corporate events, there are also fountains of free booze. 
Moderation is the key here.

Photos and videos of you and that unknown other people of the opposite – or same sex - dancing naked except for your hats on the centre table 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 jeering crowd a photo, video or both will be uploaded by a stranger to YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and 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, sports figures, celebrities, clients, the sales team and others provide great conversation starters. All will attend various breakfasts, barbecues and dinners at Stampede 2022.


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. Dress the part. Stampede is the time to pretend we are all cowboys. Running shoes don’t cut it.
  4. Open conversations by extending your right hand and saying your name. People automatically return the favour.
  5. Prepare conversation starters about the weather, sports or other relevant topics. Keep it light. 
  6. Avoid hot-button topics like politics. 
  7. Creative a killer elevator speech. 
  8. Know when to start talking business and when to stop. Cick here for 8 tips.
  9. Be authentic and likable. Avoid being annoying.
  10. Rehearse an exit strategy. Extend your hand and end the conversation with, “Bill, it’s been great meeting you…”
  11. Take lots of business cards - everywhere. Organize them in one pocket so you can retrieve them facing the right way.
  12. 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!
  13. Behave. Photos and videos of you and that unknown companion dancing naked on the centre table dressed only in your hats will be circulated on social media – forever! Click here for more tips.

Robyn T. Braley is brand the President of UniMark Creative. He is a brand specialist, writer and speaker. He publishes monthly posts on BrandIt.

Twitter: @robyntbraley
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