Attending conferences means a large time commitment from you. Often one which your billable time targets can’t afford. However, hard-to-reach decision makers and incredibly well-placed introducers often attend conferences. Being there as well may be your best chance to meet these people face-to-face. With planning, a big conference may turn into the only big business development activity you need to do. So, how do you make sure that you get the most mileage out of your time at the conference? This article explores the 8 things you must do before a conference to make sure you get maximum value from your attendance.
1. Be clear about why you are attending
As I mentioned in the introduction, conferences, particularly the multi-day conferences, take a huge amount of non-chargeable time. Therefore, ask yourself:
- Why do I want to attend this conference?
- How will it help my overall business development strategy?
- Which of the people I would love to meet is likely to be there?
Yes, conferences are great places to learn. However, they are at other people’s time convenience. To be blunt, you could just sign up for webinars to listen to in your own time (and skip the parts that don’t interest you). The major benefit of conferences is that they are great for organising face-to-face conversations with your trusted contacts AND for meeting potential introducers and clients.
2. Ask for the attendee list and prioritise the people to meet
The attendee list isn’t always sent out in advance, but there is no harm in asking. Knowing who will be there will help you plan exactly who you want to talk to and why. Revisit your overarching purpose for attending the conference – this will tell you who you need to speak to at the conference.
3. Contact the people you want to meet to see if they are going
Even if you don’t get an attendee list in advance, it is worth contacting people you would like to meet there, to see if they are going – or to prompt them into going! You will be amazed how many people will be at least thinking about attending. Even if they are not, it gives you a reason to suggest another time to meet.
4. Prioritise the sessions you want to attend for CPD purposes
Although I have been clear that the best reasons for attending a conference are networking and building strong relationships, I don’t mean to dismiss that they are great places to learn. Don’t focus so much on building relationships that you miss hearing an expert sharing information. Work out which sessions you really want to attend and which ones you are happy to miss. The ones that you are happy to miss become opportunities to have 1:2:1 conversations with colleagues and clients.
5. Talk on social media about the conference and the sessions you are looking forward to
People often decide to go to a conference or event because someone else that they know is going. Therefore, the more you talk about the event on social media the more likely you will be noticed by others in the same field – and it will promote the event and make it even more worthwhile attending. It is worth finding out the conference ‘hashtag’ in advance. (See later in this article for an explanation of the hashtag).
6. Arrange to meet someone important at every break
Well-run conferences normally have lots of opportunities to network with other delegates – three meals a day, plus coffee breaks at the very least. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to find someone on your ‘must talk to’ list to spend time with during these break out opportunities. Part of your preparation is to book as many of these conversations as possible before you go to the conference. That way they are more likely to happen.
7. Check your business cards are up-to-date
I have found that the best way to realise that you need more business cards is to check them just before you leave to attend a conference! Isn’t that always the way? Handing over a business card that has been manually altered really doesn’t give the best impression! Therefore, as part of your preparation, make sure you have enough business cards with the right details for you.
8. Find out the conference ‘hashtag’
Most conference and event organisers will decide on a keyword for all the delegates to use when talking about the conference online. (For example, #GoToExpert.) Hashtags are used all over social media, but are most prolific on Twitter. By using the hashtag in your posts and searching on the hashtag you can find more people who are going to the conference. This gives you the opportunity to find out if they are going to be valuable people to meet at the event. Most conferences encourage a Twitter conversation between delegates using the hashtag. Connecting with people on twitter before a conference is an excellent way of ensuring that you will know people when you arrive. The social media conversations continue through the conference, and for some time afterwards, so getting onboard is really worth doing. (If Twitter is completely new to you, read my post on how to create Twitter engagement.)