With the business events scene opening back up as we move through Covid, professional people are eagerly signing up to attend conferences around Australia and beyond! Will you and your staff hit the ground running with a solid game plan when you arrive at your next conference, making the most of your money and time? Here are some things I’ve learned about how to make the most of attending conferences.
1. Understand the landscape to think strategically about your actions.
Look over the program for opportunities to connect or learn, then plan out what you will do at each phase of the program. For example, is it more important for you to be on time to the next session… or to linger at the morning tea break in order to network and meet certain people? Not always easy choices, but choices that can yield good results if you think strategically.
“Is it more important for you to be on time to the next session… or to linger at the morning tea break in order to network?”
If you can bring a team to the conference, you can divide and conquer based on different people’s strengths.
2. Do your research and think ahead about who you need to meet.
Who will attend the conference that you can keep an eye out for in order to introduce yourself; or better yet, get an introduction to beforehand and then arrange to meet up while at the conference? You can get clues about who might be attending by following the conference communications on social media, or asking your network if they know someone attending that you should meet.
“Get clues about who might be attending…”
If you intend to meet a speaker, approach them after their session prepared with a meaningful question you’d like to ask. Just saying thank you may not get you remembered; trying for an elevator pitch right after their presentation is unlikely to work either. This is an opportunity to smile, quickly but meaningfully connect by showing appreciation and interest, and then respectfully leaving them space to meet other audience members. You can follow up successfully later after leaving a great first impression like this!
Your staff may not intuitively know how to connect with target contacts – having a clear plan for their communication by talking it through ahead of time will greatly support their success.
3. Building relationships is better than ‘selling’.
There are good reasons to have a business stand at the expo, but this should be planned with great care to get your money’s worth (for example, you should have confident, well-trained staff running the booth and ensure that you have more than one person available, in order to have the freedom to move around the room and not be ‘stuck’ behind the table).
Sometimes, you are best off being free to network and engage with conference activities, rather than to try selling from a booth. After all, the best business relationships start with personal interaction – the person you sit next to at the keynote, or work with in the breakout activities… the person you bump into over coffee, or meet at the networking drinks – these are the golden moments, if you are prepared with great ice-breaker questions, a confident smile, and a simple, positioned introduction to explain what you do, when meeting someone new.
Are your staff equipped with the language and skills to make the most of these golden moments at the conference?
4. How can the conference enrich your business, team and personal brands… long after the event is over?
A conference is an opportunity to step away from the day-to-day and think outside the box, as you engage with new ideas and get informed about trends in your industry. But what do you and your staff do with this thinking once you are back in the office?
“…what do you and your staff do with this thinking once you are back in the office?”
Make it a practice to set aside reflection and sharing time with your attending team members at the end of each day of the conference – what did we discover today, how can we use this? How will we share it with the rest of the team?
If attending alone or sending one staff member, have them set aside personal reflection and note-taking time during the conference to consolidate their notes and action them into something useful for the rest of the team.
Finally, build your new learnings into your brand communication and thought leadership – turn your notes into articles, videos or newsletters that demonstrate to your audiences that you stay up-to-date with your professional space. Equip your team members with the skills or collaborations to do this – or you’ll only have a bunch of selfies on Instagram to show for their time at the conference!