Conferences are what you make of them. They can be a total waste of time or they can open up a world of opportunities for business and personal development, learning and networking. In my opinion, all you actually need to do in order to make conference attending pay off is plan ahead a little bit. Here are some tips that I always try to apply and that generally help me accomplish my conference goals:
1. Find out who’s coming and why you should meet them.
Check the Facebook page of the event, the LinkedIN event information or other web tools and see who is likely to attend the conference. Google them, check their Facebook, Twitter and blog and find out how meeting these people could benefit you and your business. After that you can prioritize who you want to meet. It is also useful to have a small draft of things you want to talk about with each of them.
2. Don’t forget to set a goal for the conference.
If you’re not sure what you want, then you’re probably not going to get it. Write down questions you want answered or goals you’d like to accomplish. In order to do this you should first take a look at the conference agenda and speakers list.
3. Business cards, business cards, business cards…
You probably heard this a zillion times. You should try to have as many with you as you could possibly need. And the business cards should definitely make a statement – good quality and creative. An innovative business card design or idea will make an impression. Oh! And if you have a name tag, it’s best to wear it. I know you’re probably a very well-known entrepreneur or professional yourself, but there might always be some newbie that you would love to meet who’s never seen your photo before, right?
4. Your comfort is King.
It is very important to take care of all those small details that could ruin your comfort and your conference. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes, charge your notebook, mobile phones and take care of everything that could possibly bother you at the office. And don’t forget to silence your phone. Eat a nice and healthy breakfast and try to drink as much water as possible during the day.
5. Conversations – more educational that sessions?
Sometimes at conferences the most educational and idea-generating moments aren’t part of the sessions themselves. Some of the best information is gathered outside the conference rooms. Hallways, parties, coffee breaks, lunch. Remember! Not all the experts present at the conference will have a microphone in front of them. Some of them could be standing right next to you.
6. Get out there and meet people. New people.
This is probably the most important conference tip I can give. At conferences people generally tend to flock in their groups of acquaintances. Or if they don’t see too many familiar faces at the conference they might just decide to hide behind their laptop and seem busy. Or they might just remember they have an important phone call they need to make right then. A very open attitude right This is obviously a way of getting into their comfort zone when they feel insecure. And definitely not the way that will get you to meeting new people, getting feedback on your latest project or finding out interesting industry facts. You’ve probably done this a couple of times yourself. And that’s exactly why you know I’m right. You can always approach groups of people and mingle in their conversation if you think you can contribute. But never bother 2 people that seem engaged in a private chat. If you don’t know anybody and feel like approaching a person you stand right next to a simple “What are you working on?” is a perfect conversation starter.
7. Have your answers with you!
Especially if you’re not the communicative/popular type you should find some answers for the basic questions you will be asked. You don’t need to reherse them. I’m just saying that you should try to have a simple and to-the-point answer for the so-annoying “What do you do?” question. Remember the elevator pitch speech we were talking about? You can apply the same rules here.
8. Get the most out of Q&A sessions.
The Q&A sessions at the end of presentations are the perfect opportunity to get some of your questions answered. Don’t ask questions that would only benefit you – e.g. a particular detail from your business plan. Always ask general interest questions during the Q&A sessions. This way you ensure you’ll get other people from the audience joining your discussion as well. You can also engage with speakers during breaks and ask more specific questions.
9. Unconferences and collaborative workshops
Some conferences – and especially technology-focused conferences – provide participants with the opportunity to share some of their knowledge or to talk about their project or area of expertise during collaborative workshop sessions or unconference sessions. Find out if such an opportunity exists and subscribe for such a presentation.
10. Remember to follow up!
OK, so you met a few people, you gathered a stack of business cards and you enjoyed your overall conference experience. Always remember to follow up with people after the event. A friendly email reminding the person that you have met, that it was nice and maybe actually coming up with a meeting proposal (if there is anything you’d like to discuss more in depth) is always a great idea.
These are the 10 most important tips I always try to remember before attending a business conference. Are there any other conference tips you’d like to share with us?