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Where the Real Deals Are Ignited at Conferences -- the Bar

Weary travelers should ward off the impulse to retreat to their hotel room. Instead descend on the lucrative business nexus.
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I travel the world and speak at conferences in my work as an entrepreneurial advisor and coach, delivering keynotes for groups ranging from the Global Entrepreneurship Congress to Dell Networks.

After seeing many cultures and market segments come alive at conferences, I can tell you that at the end of the day almost every conference is the same. A host of people descend on a location with two things on their mind: networking  connections and sales.

Some arrive prepared with folders and marketing materials, others only with business cards. Some people come as buyers and yet others as sellers. But no matter what they have lugged across the country or around the world to help them represent their business, one part of the conference must be attended: the social component that takes place at the hotel bar.

Related: Strategic Networking and How to Make the Most of Your Evenings  

Yes, the idea of drinks over business lunches started to lose favor sometime in the early 1990s when people began trading in their whiskey sours for a soda or water. But those partaking in the evening business ritual have not changed their propensity for alcohol. Rather, drinks in the lounge after dinner have only increased in popularity because of all the social restrictions placed on the business lunch.

It is true that after a full day of listening to speakers or walking the floor of a trade show, most weary conference attendees want nothing more than to settle into watching a sitcom while awaiting room service in their hotel room, a calming  reprieve from the daily grind of life back home. But those retreating to their hotel room should know: Their very behavior will cost them the precious connections and sales they came to seek.

Connections and sales await them down in the bar. And by now the crowd there most likely has already had two glasses of wine.

Here are the three things to know about how to enter that bar and leave with the prize that prompted a conference reservation in the first place:

Related: 9 Major Networking No-No's

1. Take business cards and an attitude of service. Very few people care about what's at stake for another conference goer. They care about themselves. So give them something: a lead, another connection, an introduction. Be of service so they'll remember who gave them that card the next day.

2. Do not talk business. Everyone in that bar has been talking business all day and they are sick of it. They will talk about anything else under the sun. But please, no discussing business. Stick to open-ended questions on sports, travel spots, great restaurants or the best band performance personally witnessed in the last three months -- just anything but business.

3. Start a tab and perk up an ear. Buy the drinks and the  adjacent person chatting will likely stop counting the drinks he or she is paying for. This individual will loosen up and start talking. The more this person talks, the better he or she will think the conversation is going (isn’t this always the case when someone has had a few?) and the more information will be revealed about ways to be of service and become memorable.

Bonus tip: Drink but remain sober as a judge. Don't be the guy drinking water or the person whose scotch on the rocks has allowed the rocks to melt away so it resembles apple juice. But don't lose control of the game either. Remember that the real game is happening now, here in the bar.

Come Monday, don’t act like the desperate guy who got a woman's number at the bar. Use the old two-day rule and follow up with any new friends on Wednesday. Follow the rules above, and they will remember great conversation, the fabulous connection promised them and will be eager to take a call. This is when the deal can be closed: Talk business.

Related: 5 Ways to Tame Your Busy Schedule and Network Like a Pro