We attend conferences to get smarter about the business, to network, to grow our client base, and to grow our skill sets. Most industry conferences offer a blend of professional development and insights from thought leaders who can share their knowledge on the latest trends. Some also offer opportunities to learn about new products or technologies you or your company may want to adapt. Whether the conference is one day or over the course of several, having a strategy going in will help you to maximize the time spent and make the experience more valuable.
Here's how you can kill it at your next conference:
Review the agenda in advance. Are there sessions going on simultaneously? Pick some in the areas that you specialize in, but also pick a few that are out of your day to day responsibilities and might trigger new ideas. Decide on the ROI you want before you even get there.
Identify who you may want to connect with. Increasingly, conferences are listing attendee lists online. If your conference has a list of attendees and their companies available, browse through it in advance and target who you want to connect with. Be open to connecting with everyone, but also be strategic and seek out who you want to meet. If the conference doesn't have a list available, try checking the hashtag on various social platforms. Chances are other conference goers have posted about their excitement for the conference!
Research the speakers and take a deep look at the content being covered so you come in with an idea of what you are seeking to gain. Jot down a few questions you have about the topic in advance. Maybe they get covered during the session, and if they don't, be ready to ask them yourself.
Always aim to ask a thoughtful question. Want to be remembered positively?
Stay away from long comments and personal commentary. While these can be successful ways to stand out on rare occasions, generally, long commentary isn't received well. They can make a bad impression on the audience or speakers and be perceived as a stingy use of time when other audience members have questions.
Instead, briefly introduce yourself, stating your name and company very clearly, speaking directly into the mic, if there is one available. Then address your relevant, thoughtful, and concise question to the speaker(s) you want to answer it.
Doing this not only gives you access to the information you were seeking, but also is a way to "share your business card" with the whole room. Now everyone will know who you are and what you do and it will be an easy way for them to make conversations with you.
Put your phone down and stay focused! Giving the panelists your full attention is important if you want the most value out of your experience. Scrolling through your latest work emails doesn't allow you to be absorb the knowledge the panelists are dropping. Furthermore, perception matters and you want to perceived as someone who is engaged. The only times you should be using your phone is if you plan to...
Tweet. Using the conference hashtag is one way to get noticed and make new connections! Think of it as virtually handing out your business card. If someone likes your tweet they are most likely going to check out your twitter feed to learn more about you. An added bonus is if they retweet you because now you have access to their followers as well. Look at tweeting as another way of networking during the conference.
Take advantage of coffee breaks and happy hours. The conference isn't only about the content. No matter how good the content is, the people attending are just as valuable to you. Instead of huddling over your computer in the breaks, connect with people there and embrace the opportunity that comes from making new connections.
Follow up with the exciting new leads and connections you made. Thank them for connecting, reference an exciting takeaway from the conference and a next step you discussed. Leave the follow up open, so their response is encouraged!
Send a recap to your team and share the biggest takeaways from the event. What better way to show your team their investment was worth it, than to share what you gained from attending? And if you paid to attend, your recap can show your company the value of your attendance and aid in your future efforts to negotiate with your company to cover the cost in the future.
Attend your next conference with a game plan in mind and look forward to knowing your time and money were well spent.