Attending a conference with other participants from around the country such as the upcoming National Women’s Day conference or this week’s International Web Summit in Dublin opens up a world of opportunities for growth, learning, and fellowship. Why not take a little time to plan ahead so that you can maximize your results from attending.
1. Set Goals Before You Go
Before you leave for the conference, write down some goals that you want to accomplish during the conference. Be specific but holistic – not “I want 50 new business cards”! These goals could include items about specific skills you want to hone, questions you want to have answered, people you want to contact, areas for which you want to have referral contacts, etc. Set three to five goals for each day of the conference (some goals may stay in place each day) do a mind check on them throughout the day and then hold yourself accountable for them at the end of each day.
2. Be Prepared
It always astonishes me how often I meet people at conferences who can’t succinctly tell me what they do and why I should work with them or recommend them to my clients. Get your Elevator Pitch polished and ready. Be prepared to chat about your work – have three bullet points you always get across. Have your business cards to hand (not buried in your bag across the room), with strong branding and all your relevant details clearly printed. Ensure your website is up to date with your latest announcements or offers and that the branding on your site is the same as the branding on your cards. Bring samples if relevant, it’s always easier to touch or taste than to understand a waffling description. These are the most basic marketing must haves and it’s amazing how many people you meet without them.
3. Dress to Impress but Efficiently
The way you dress and your overall look tells me a lot about who you are, what area you work in and the way you do business. It may be unfair but it’s true. You need to always look professional but with your own style and flair. Plan your look for a conference, keeping in mind the people you will want to talk to and the message you want to leave with them. Hotels and conference centers are notorious for having great variations in temperature, so dress in layers that can be removed and added on. You will probably be spending more time on your feet and doing more walking than usual, maybe reconsider those killer heels unless you wear them daily. Be comfortable, you’ll exude more confidence.
4. Be Attractive
Everyone goes to a conference to learn and have fun, but no one enjoys being around people who are boorish, self-centered, or needy. Don’t be a seller or a clinger, be a conversation maker. Show enthusiasm for what you do, ask questions, introduce people, draw people into your circle and use humour to make people feel welcome and interesting. Be yourself. Have a friendly exit strategy ready it’s easy to get stuck with a group who are not helping achieve your conference goals.
5. Network, Network, Network
A conference is a priceless opportunity to make yourself and your brand known and to get to know others. You’ve already set some goals that will get you started. Now be alert to other opportunities. Always remember the person you’re chatting with may never buy from you but it’s who they know that counts. Be sure they understand what you do and the type of client you’re looking for – make it easy for them to refer you. Be a good and active listener and engage in the conversation if you want others to remember you. Get a card from everyone you meet and make a note on it as an aide memoire. Be active networking online throughout the conference, using hash tags give a live feed on the key learning points for each speaker on Twitter, give relevant updates through LinkedIn and on your company facebook pages. Comment on other posters updates, start conversations and meet up face to face.
6. Learn From Every Experience
You will learn a huge amount from attending a conference. There will be wonderful speakers with knowledge and experience to share. Take just one or two points from each session – Imagine you have to sum it up in a single tweet (Better still, send that Tweet!). You will learn a great deal as you network with colleagues. And there will be some mistakes you make that will also teach you important lessons. Learn from every single experience that you have. Keep a note of your key learning points both positive and negative.
7. Lighten Your Load
Conferences are great places to pick up “Stuff”. You’ll collect business cards, brochures, handouts, t-shirts, bags, books, tapes and random samples. Before you know it you will have more things to haul home then you can imagine. Working in Marketing I am a divil for this, I collect designs I like, marketing ideas I think might benefit clients, web shots etc. Needless to say most I never look at again. Lighten your load throughout the conference by trawling through the collateral you collect, make notes on it on the conversations you had with the provider and be ruthless in what you jettison. If you are abroad, simply post it home… It’s much easier to mail a few pounds of material to yourself than it is to haul it back on a plane. Make a note of everyone you met regardless of their value to your business, keep the cards with you. Make notes of what you promised and to whom to make follow up fast and easy. Do this at the end of each conference day.
8. Back at the Office
When you return to the office after the conference, be sure to promptly do whatever you have promised to do. Make contact with everyone you had conversations with, even just to say it was good to meet them, or to thank them for their advice. Don’t just send an email – write a letter – you are bringing your brand and message across their desk, again making it easy for them to refer you. Connect with these people on LinkedIn and Twitter using a personal message and if they accept your invitation you have access to their online networks, leveraging your relationship as a referral. Contact attendees you met based near you and arrange to meet up face to face to discover more about each other’s business. The more they understand what you do and the type of client you are looking for the more confidence they will have to refer business your way. Remember 14% of EU businesses say they will buy from an advert, 78% say they will buy from a referral. Go through the notes you made and look at where the learning can be applied – act on it!