Get more out of attending conferences


No matter how large or small your business, educational conferences, and trade conventions are a great way to increase your knowledge, capabilities, and network. Being strategic in the selection and execution of attendance at these events can make or break the results. Here are just a few tips to keep in mind when selecting a professional conference or convention.

First, think about why you want to go to an event like this. There should always be more than a simple networking opportunity to justify the attendance and it should never be based on social activity. In addition to the educational and informational aspects of attending a conference, keep in mind that this is a marketing opportunity. Consider the cost and the potential value.

What kind of conference should you attend? There are many different types of conferences ranging from general sales to industry specific. You’ll have to decide first what it is you want from a conference before choosing which will suit your needs.

Many have organized networking events or activities designed to give participants the chance to interact outside of the convention floor. The best, most productive conferences include educational and informational break-outs, a high-profile keynote speaker, and ample networking opportunities.
There are also tremendous opportunities to volunteer or be a speaker or panelist. If you’re not being asked to sit on a panel, offer your time. If you want to speak at an event, prepare a synopsis and references of your past speaking engagements and offer your services – not for pay, but in exchange for your event pass or maybe a discount on your display space.

Just keep in mind that your expertise and information must be of interest to the whole of the convention attendees. Also, remember that events often book panelist and speakers a year or more in advance. The sooner you decide which event you’d like to attend and offer your time, the more likely they’ll take you up on it.

From a sales standpoint, the keyword is “strategy.” Being strategic about both why you are attending and who you connect with at a conference. This will help you expand your potential and introduce your products and services, without the hard sell.

Study the conference schedule carefully before you go. Create a “hit list” of those individuals you know will be attending (if available) and work to get a one-on-one meeting with key people with whom you want to connect. Hit the convention floor the first day with a plan and execute it, but be as flexible as possible. That is, leave buffer time between meetings so you can collect your thoughts and organize notes.

Attend events outside your industry. Many organizations focus a great deal of conference time on industry-specific events, which is fine. But often the best business opportunities are found outside your industry, within those of your sales verticals.

Think of it this way. Imagine you are a manufacturer of toilet plungers and your most lucrative customers are plumbing companies. You don’t go to a plunger manufacturer convention but instead hit the plumbing conferences. Maybe you can have a tradeshow display or even offer a free presentation, exclusively during the event. The point is that you’re targeting potential customer bases rather than mingling with your own competitors.

That said, there is value to keeping an eye on the competition and attending events within your industry to learn about the latest innovations or strategies associated with your product or service.

Another great piece of advice to pass along is not overbooking yourself. Connect with people whenever you can but don’t overdo it.

Hopefully, you have some outstanding networking skills and will be able to meet some great contacts and begin building a relationship with them. As a sales tool, conferences are about farming, not hunting. Make just a few, strategic introductions that can grow into potential referral partners or sales opportunities.

Follow up with each of them with hand-written notes of thanks or a personal phone call. Make the connection that will last. If networking is new to you or you want some tips on the follow-up, download a free report on networking.

Lastly, and this cannot be said often enough, keep in mind that a business conference is exactly that – business. If you’re going for social reasons and without a plan of attack you’re likely not going to be successful.