This is the definitive guide to maximise the benefits and get the most of going to a conference / seminar that you or your company has paid $$$$$’s for. I wrote it when preparing for SMX Sydney from my experience going to lots of seminars / conferences. Please add your own suggestions in the comments area
I’m proud to note that this article has been recommended by leading Australian sole trader/small business site Flyingsolo & Web Directions South conference organiser John Allsopp: “There’s no doubt attending a conference is a very big investment of time, money and effort. So, how do you make the most of that investment? Neerav Bhatt has a very detailed post at his blog, looking at the things you can do before, during and after attending an event to get the most from your efforts.”
Preparation Tips – a Week or Two Before the Conference
To succeed you must plan ahead like a successful military campaign eg: the WWII Allied forces D day invasion of Normandy France. If you don’t plan ahead the conference will end up as an expensive miserable failure
- Choose Sessions ahead of Time
Look at the presenter schedule program beforehand and plan what you’ll go to each day. Pick which sessions you want to be at and have an alternative in case it’s is full. If a the presenter is terrible at speaking leave immediately … you didn’t pay all that $$$ to waste time. Go to your alternative choice. Remember popular sessions can fill up quickly
- Write down questions you’d like answered, or goals you’d like to accomplish
- Hotel Accomodation: Stay at the Host Hotel / Closest Hotel to the Venue
If you need to get something from your room you can do it easily. Also you’ll probably pick up lots of brochures and freebies from vendors and stall holders which can make your conference satchel quite heavy. You can dump all this stuff on your bed quickly during a drinks/lunch break.
You might think it’s smarter to book a cheap hotel in the same city but once you add the taxi fares, time spent getting to/from the conference venue it’s not actually worth it.
Plus if you stay at the host hotel you can sleep in longer, giving you an advantage over people commuting by Taxi or Public transport far away from the venue.
Being at the conference hotel also allows you to meet new people in the hotel’s elevator, lobby, bar, or gym.
– source: Shoemoney
- Charge your gadgets and devices (PDA, phone, laptop) to 100% each morning – Take your phone/laptop recharger cable if you’ll use all the battery life during the day eg: live blogging on your laptop/notebook computer.
- Clothes and Shoes
Your choice depends on the reason for you attending the conference. I suggest dressing so you look smart and professional but are still comfortable. There’s no point wearing a suit and expensive business shoes if they’re uncomfortable and the suit gets crumpled from you sitting all day.
Bring a sweater/jumper or layer your clothes so you’ll be comfortable whether the venue rooms are hot or cold. Conference planners often have no control over room temperatures.
- Business Cards
Make sure you have LOTS of good quality business cards with your business details on them to swap with people. By LOTS I don’t mean 10 or 20, I mean at least 50 for each conference day. I keep around 20 in my wallet. Another 20 in my pants pocket so I can swiftly give them to someone and another batch of 100 kept together with a rubber band in my conference satchel.
Now you’ve got enough supplies, don’t spam people with them. The idea is to accept a card from anyone who offers you one and then give them yours.
Put a note on your card before you give it away to help the recipient remember what you talked about eg: “Neerav=SEO Expert”, “Neerav=Problogger”, or “Helps PPL Make $$ Online” etc) and when someone gives you their card do the same, write on it: “Bob=Big UK Advertiser”, “Jane=Adsense Specialist” etc
Also as a side benefit if you have some old business cards with a previous design on them but with correct contact details take at least a dozen to enter into prize draws at vendor stalls. This way you’re using cards which otherwise would be wasted and to possibly win prizes 🙂
Finally a nice quote: “Don’t hoard your business cards-they’re like smiles, they only have value when they’re given away” (source: SLA)
- Travel (Planes, Trains and Automobiles)
If you’re attending a conference and you’re not a local of that town or city, make sure you get to your hotel during business hours the day before the conference starts at the latest.
Getting a cheap red-eye flight departing late at night from your home and arriving early the next morning a few hours before the conference starts = start out feeling tired
At the Conference: On the Day
Arrive in plenty of time on Day 1 of the conference to get registered. I usually turn up 30min beforehand. Once registered make sure you know where all the key places are: Exhibition hall, Toilets, Sources of Tea/Coffee, Lunch/Dinner area etc.
The Conference satchel/backpack you’re given at Registration will often have lots of brochures and promotional sponsor materials in there. I recommend keeping only the bare essentials eg: the presenters list and agenda. Quickly glance at the other stuff, keep anything that could be useful and chuck the rest.
Mobile / Cell phone: Set it to vibrate throughout the conference. If you must answer your phone during a session, quietly exit the room and then take the call. Don’t sit there txting your friends for the whole session if the presenter can clearly see you. They will dislike you for not showing them respect.
- Name Tags & Socialising
Wear Nametags so people can approach you and say “Hi Bob, I see you work at ExampleCorp…”.
Look at other people’s name tags so you can start a conversation with them. Assume anyone wearing a conference committee tag is extra approachable!
You’ll probably be stuck in a few lines for registration, lunch, coffee breaks etc. Take a chance to talk with people in line with you.
Some of the best information is gained outside of the conference rooms – in hallways, at the parties and in the bars.
Many of the brightest minds will be at the conference. Listen and remember, not all experts will have a microphone in front of them, some will be sitting right next to you.
No matter how brilliant or “famous” the people at the conference may seem to you, don’t let that deter you from introducing yourself. People are incredibly welcoming. Remember, these people aren’t famous outside this industry and they are as much of a geek as you and I are.
– source: Dustin Woodard
- Engage with Speakers
Catch up with them later when you can ask questions that are specific to YOU. Ask general questions in the sessions that will benefit EVERYONE. Also – don’t go to the sessions you already know everything about. If you do mainly SEO – sit in on some PPC or shopping feed sessions. You’ll generally get inspiration in the areas you HAVEN’T thought much about.
Sidle in on Conversations:
Apologize to be sure it is okay and introduce yourself – wait until the conversation lulls to ask your questions. Don’t be overly pushy if a small group of people is in an intense conversation – you can always approach them if you see them later. It’s okay to introduce yourself a few times.
Don’t try to Pitch People – You’ll Reek of Desperation:
You’re here to make contacts and prospects – not get someone to sign the contract (well maybe – but don’t be the pushy salesguy). There’s no better way to get ostracized from a conversation. It’s the only time I’ve truly seen rudeness at a pubcon show. Don’t spam people with business cards or handouts.
– source: stuntdubl
- Meet As Many People as You Can:
Introduce yourself to everyone you can, keep moving, keep networking, and if you see someone alone, speak to them. Don’t wait for them to walk up to you, take the initiative. Even if you’re normally shy, do it anyway – this person might be able to answer all your questions and could become your biggest ally – you never know.
Try to give info freely – the more you give, the more you’re apt to get back in return.
Not all attendees are there to “do business”. Don’t push your business on people, and don’t focus on selling. Make friends, and things will move from there.
A few Opening lines:
What Industry are you in?
Is this your first conference?
Did you learn anything new today?
Have you been to [city name] before?
Where are you from?
What do you do?
– source: Jim Boykin
- Avoid Co-workers & Existing Customers:
I too often see people from the same company chatting in circles with each other. A circle of chatting people from the same company to me doesn’t seem to be an open invitation to join that chat. I’d rather chat 1 on 1 rather than me and 5 people from the same company…and why should I try to to even chat with a group of 5 people chatting in a circle?
My coworkers and I usually go to most of the conferences together, yet we hardly see each other during the conference time…and that’s the way it should be, we can compare notes afterwards, and I can chat with them any day – at conferences, we split up.
– source: Jim Boykin
- Be Polite – Act like a Party Host.
At a social gathering, the host is responsible for keeping the guests interested and engaged with other people. Acting like a host will take your mind from yourself and your anxiety, and will help you interact with other people more naturally.
When you meet someone new, even if your interests are a million miles apart, you can always say “Have you met so and so? You should. I’ll introduce you when I see you together,” and “Be as socially generous as possible.
It almost never ‘costs’ anything to invite someone along, bring them into a conversation, introduce them to a colleague, connect them to someone of common interests, etc., and these things (a) are always remembered, and (b) go around and come around.”
– source: IARR (PDF)
- Vendor / Sponsor Stalls:
Go see them if you can during a coffee break. You might learn something, get some freebies you can take and probably enter some prize draws
- Take Photos: With your compact camera or camera phone. You can use these for blogging, to send to people in the photos afterwards or to offer to conference organisers for their photo gallery in exchange for a link to your website.
When You Get Home Afterwards
Write a report or memo to your boss or team and explain the value of the conference and what you learned. Be specific about benefits to your organisation.
If your boss does not require such a report, write it anyway. It is a great way to organize what you learned in your own mind. Keep one copy and send one to your boss anyway (and perhaps even to your boss’s boss). This will show them that you’re a good employee and worth spending training $$ on.
– source: SLA
Lastly – make sure you follow up in the days after the conference when you’ve returned home. Call those people you said you’d contact, Check out those interesting products/services, Put what you’ve learned into action … Take action!