Do you enjoy attending conferences as much as I do? Meeting new people, exposure to new ideas and idealism are all infectious. But a week after the conference is over, what really sticks with you? Is your investment of time and money worthwhile? Here are 8 Tips for marketers to get the most out of attending your next conference.
1. Choose The Right Conference
It’s tempting to only attend conferences where your tribe gathers (fellow marketers, architects, engineers, etc.). This can be good for teaming, but also choose conferences where potential clients gather. Ask your current clients, in your targeted industry, which conferences they attend. Then consider who the speakers and attendees will be. I’ve found that regional conferences like SMPS The Wave offers more intimacy and a higher concentration of potential clients than national conferences.
2. Don’t Just Attend
A great way to build brand awareness for yourself and your firm is to be visible at a conference. The best way to do this is get on the agenda as a presenter. Start with being a panelist in a breakout, then a sole presenter. Move your way up the food chain to be a panelist or keynote speaker in a main session. Conferences typically put out a request for presenters at least 6 months prior to the event. Another great way to build visibility at a conference is to be a sponsor (but only if this allows for personal introductions to VIP organizers or attendees). Consider volunteering to help organize the conference in a way that allows you to demonstrate your talents, or develop a new skill. In short, connect yourself to the conference to benefit from the halo effect.
3. Pre-Conference Networking
Conferences always announce speakers before the event as a marketing tool. Determine which speakers you would like to meet and start following them on Twitter or subscribe to their newsletter. Help to promote their session at the conference by tweeting something like “I’m excited to learn from @lecoursdesign at the @SMPStheWave conference.” Genuine flattery will make you more memorable when you actually meet the speaker at the conference. The previous tweet also helps to promote the conference itself which might gain you an extra drink ticket from your new friend, the conference organizer. Conferences will often pre-announce attendees. This is a great opportunity to reach out to those you’d like to meet. Pre-arrange meeting for a meal, or for coffee during a break, because nobody likes being that lonely guy standing around trying to look occupied.
4. Planning, Goals, and Flexibility
Once the conference starts, it’s easy to simply follow the herd. But you need to be selfish to make sure your needs are met. Get clear on why you are attending a conference before you register. This can be your purpose. Then set some goals that will support that purpose. For example, you may want to meet 5 new client prospects, gain 3 new blog ideas, or find 2 potential teaming partners. Look through the conference agenda to make a tentative schedule for the sessions and breakouts you prefer to attend. Then be flexible enough to adapt when Seth Godin asks you to lunch because you pre-conference tweeted about his session.
5. Capture Content Digitally
I am migrating from taking handwritten notes in a notebook to using a laptop, and eventually a tablet. My handwriting can be illegible and I often use my notes as content for this blog so going digital is more efficient. By capturing your notes digitally, you eliminate the intermediary step of having to transcribe your notes. This increases the shelf life of that content. For visuals, use your smart phone or digital camera to capture key slides of a presentation. Digital video or audio capture is another great way to make sure you don’t miss a word.
6. Share What You Learned
It’s been said that you don’t really know a subject until you teach it to someone else. A great way to digest the knowledge you consumed at the conference is to share it with others. Those that weren’t able to attend the conference will appreciate this. Those that did attend will appreciate a review, and also hearing about alternate breakout sessions that they were not able to attend. One way to share is to live tweet those nuggets of wisdom your followers would appreciate. Or, share a blog post about individual sessions or highlights of the entire conference.
7. Meeting New People
A big motivation for me to attend conferences is to meet new people. But as an introvert, this can be challenging. Introducing oneself is awkward for most people. An effective icebreaker is to ask “what did you think of the previous speaker/session?” or “what’s the best thing you’ve heard at this conference?” There is no doubt that you’ll be asked “what do you do?” or “where do you work?” Have a self introduction that is intriguing enough that people will ask follow-on questions. For more info on writing a good self introduction, click here. A final tip is to eat lunch with people you don’t know. One of my best friends today is someone that I met at lunch at a conference over five years ago.
8. Absorb As Much As Possible
Conferences can be physically, mentally and emotionally tiring. Sleep on the plane or when you get home. Seize every opportunity that the conference offers to get a full return on your investment. Some of the best conversations and connections get made around the periphery of a conference. I’m still kicking myself for not joining a group going out after SMPS The Wave. I missed out on a live mermaid swimming in a giant tank. It even inspired Josh Miles to write a great post How a Mermaid Got Me Talking About a Brand.
I hope these tips are useful for you to get the most out of a conference. What have I missed? What are some strategies you use when attending a conference?