Conferences and trade shows are great opportunities to learn about your industry, network, and connect with like minded individuals in your field. I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to attend quite a few events over the past four years. Here are some tips and suggestions to get the most out of your next event.
1. Register early. You can usually attend conferences and other events for a fraction of the price if you register in advance. Many events offer lower priced “early bird” pricing and then increase 2-4x if you wait until the last minute.
2. Stay at the conference hotel if you can. It may cost more, but there are many benefits to staying at the event hotel. It’s makes attending the event a lot less of a hassle. If you have a few extra minutes or need to grab something or get rid of your bag or briefcase, you can run to your room and back in just a few minutes.
3. Get professionally designed business cards. There is a difference, and people can tell. If you want to make a good impression and get your brand noticed, make sure you get a nice looking card to hand out along the way.
4. Plan your itinerary early. Print off the list of sessions and who is speaking. Highlight the sessions you want to attend the most, and try to resolve conflicts. If you want to attend more than one session, get a feel for which one is most important to you so you can prioritize. If you’re not getting what you want out of it, you can always check out another session on your list.
5. Know your goals. There may be folks you want to meet, or specific questions you want answered. Try to collect your thoughts in advance so you can get the most out of the event you are attending.
6. Speak if you can. You may be new to the industry and perhaps not qualified. But if you put yourself out there and can speak about something which provides value to conference attendees, you will create more opportunities to connect and meet people you might not otherwise meet.
7. Work the room but don’t hard sell. Nearly everyone is trying to sell or promote something at a conference or trade show. You probably came there to promote your business or product. If they are interested in what you offering, people you meet will ask you about it. So make sure you meet and connect with plenty of people, but don’t hard sell them during the event.
8. Dress sharp. You are going to an event to network and connect with people. So try your best to make a good first impression.
9. Take notes at sessions including potential action steps. I usually try to bring a notebook so I can jot down comments, web sites, etc. at sessions or during the day.
10. Have something to write with while you’re networking. I usually try to carry a pen and some index cards in my pocket during parties, cocktail hours, and networking events. If someone mentions an idea or suggestion that I want to remember, I write it down. This often happens in mid-conversation during evening cocktail hours and parties, and I know that I will forget their tip if I don’t write it down. So I just write down one or two words to help me remember later. I’ve tried to use my iPhone or PDA for this before, but I can’t type fast enough without disrupting the flow of the conversation. So I stick to pen and paper.
11. Make a plan of action when you leave based on what you learned. I get excited whenever I get to attend an event. I always learn something or get a new perspective on something that I have been working on. So take advantage of this energy and make a detailed plan for how you are going to take your business or project to the next level. I usually try to do this on the flight home, since everything is fresh in my mind.
12. Link up with everyone you meet. When you get back to work and the dust settles, go through your stack of business cards and connect with folks you met on the social network of your choice. Let them know if you enjoyed meeting them or think there may be an opportunity to work together.
Make sure you follow up when you get back to work, but don’t BS people if you didn’t have a meaningful conversation. It’s fine to be honest and send someone an e-mail saying you enjoyed meeting them. But if you did not actually meet them, don’t lie about it – you will only make yourself look bad. Even though I meet dozens of people every time I attend an event, I usually remember most of them. And if someone I’ve never spoken with contacts me out of the blue and says they enjoyed meeting me when I know they never have, I find it hard to take them seriously.
13. Review your notes and action plan about a month after the event. Have you done everything you wanted to? It’s easy to get back to “the grind” and change gears and never follow through with items on your to-do list from the event. It helps to review notes a few weeks after to see if there is anything else you can take away from the event.
Not sure where the conferences are for your industry? Check out Conference Calendar – the only global conference online resource center that details specific events.