The Vltava river, Karluv bridge, Staromestske sq, Malostranske sq, Astronomical clock and Prazsky castle, all reasons enough to visit the Czech capital, Prague. But when I discovered the annual European Facilities Management Conference (EFMC) was being held in the city this year, I thought of a better reason to make the 400km drive south, networking.
As an FM professional living in Berlin and seeking employment, this would be a fantastic opportunity to meet key people within the industry and discuss the FM market sector within Europe, maybe I would come away with one or two promising contacts? I reserved my exhibition ticket online and provided the organisers with a copy of my CV for the ‘Matchmaking’ Board.
I learned the EFMC 2013 was set over two days, and included an exhibition area for the sponsors and delegates to talk together as well as discussions, seminars and workshops with industry leaders from across Europe.
My objective would be simple, to talk to as many people as possible. As I would be attending the EFMC without the backing of an employer, I would need to bolster my professional image. This proved to be straightforward, I would need my suit dry cleaned and I would need business cards. The former was taken care of on the high street, the later by a small but brilliant online printing firm in London. Three days later, the suit was ready and I had 50 high quality business cards in my hand.
I made the drive to Prague from Berlin on Wednesday evening using my mother-in-law’s little town car which is not entirely suited to the limitless German autobahns! I decided to sit at 110 kph and admire the countryside. One highlight was passing the city of Dresden and seeing the top of its wonderful Frauenkirche.
After a revitalising nights stay at the budget Hotel Askania, I arrived by taxi at the Prague Kongresove centrum on the opening morning and was somewhat surprised to be greeted by two people making a video of the delegates arriving. I smiled and said a few words to camera about what I hoped to experience at the EFMC and walked in. As I looked back, a Dutch gentleman was asked to do the same, he seemed born for television and jumped at the chance by opening his arms to the sky, turning his body sideways to the camera and giving a live weather report together with a few words about it being a wonderful occasion! This should be lively I thought!
I picked up my entry pass and was drawn immediately to the Sodexo stand; they were strategically positioned in the reception and were providing delegates with hot coffee and Danish pastries on arrival. They also had a concierge type service, offering first time travellers to the city advice such as how to get around, traditional Czech restaurants and key historic attractions. A particularly nice touch was their offer to charge the battery of almost any type of mobile phone, an original and commendable example of going the extra mile!
Cappuccino in hand and within minutes of finding a table to stand at, I was talking to the Group Head of FM for Societe Generale, and a senior FM lecturer from The Hague University. We discussed our backgrounds and reasons for attending the conference and a few moments later, I had exchanged my first business card, only 49 to go! I was buoyed by the ease at which FM professionals, regardless of background or geographical location can strike up interesting conversation about the industry. This was the perfect start to the day and set the tone for the next few hours. I confidently but politely approached people not already in conversation and introduced myself, at every occasion, I was offered a business card along with a request to make contact after the event. Over the course of the day I met industry leaders and executives from Johnson Controls, Compass Group, Bilfinger HSG International, Sodexo and ISS.
An added bonus and purely coincidental was meeting with Liz Kentish and Neil Everitt of BIFM. We enjoyed a delicious lunch of cold meats, couscous salad, butter fish curry with rice and indulged in ice cream provided by ISS. They had attended seminars in the morning and were also meeting IFMA colleagues from across the pond.
By late afternoon, I had achieved more than I thought possible and I left the conference with a sense of purpose and endeavour to follow up on the offers of networking I had obtained. Back at the hotel, I kicked the shoes of my aching feet and reflected on the day. For a little effort and some preplanning, I had achieved something that is priceless in most industries, the chance to meet like-minded professional people in a relaxed environment. I was able to share experiences, learn about FM in a different market sector and discuss issues in FM that are common across the globe! For someone who is currently seeking employment opportunities, those two days in Prague may end up being worth the two missed days of my language course!
Whenever I network, I try to apply my five favourite techniques for getting the most from the experience, these are:
1) Setting myself a goal for the event, i.e – collect 15 business cards. This helps me keep focus on my objectives
2) Be interested in other people and their passion, it doesn’t have to be work related.
3) Don’t highjack someone else’s conversation.
4) Follow up after the event; don’t assume they will contact you.
As I write this however, I am reminded off the floods currently devastating the city of Prague, caused by days of torrential rain and wish our FM friends and colleagues affected best wishes.
By Richard Bradley