Like many of you we enjoy all that a good conference trip can bring. I have been speaking, attending and even exhibiting at conferences for well over a decade now and there are a few things that I always do to make sure that I get the most out of the trip.
I am in fact writing this post on the balcony of my Hotel in San Diego during the holiday I tagged on to my trip to ClickZ San Francisco where we will be exhibiting LinkRisk and catching up with industry friends and clients all week.
A few weeks before the conference
Make sure you have the travel booked well in advance. I prefer to try to book the train if the conference is in the UK and therefore the earlier the better from a cost perspective.
If you are going to make the most of the networking elements of the conference then don’t be one of those people who comes down mid morning of the first conference day and leaves at the end of the last session, thats a sure fire way of just wasting the opportunities! Book to be around when the majority of other people will be around.
Check with the conference what hotel deals they have and what hotels people will be staying at, it might cost a few pounds more but being in the conference hotel is better than leaving the after party early because there is an hours taxi ride to a travel lodge on the motorway junction.
Start to work out who is attending and work out who you want to talk to. Sometimes its good to look through the speakers and the exhibitors and working out what you’d like to learn from them or talk to them about and start to get closer to them on social media and email so the discussion flows easily when you see them face to face at the event.
Most speakers are pretty relaxed and I know that anyone who wants to speak to me about something or get some advice at the event simply needs to mention the magic words “maybe I can buy you a beer?” and the deals sealed!
A few days before the event
Make sure you know the agenda.
Work your way through the agenda and make sure you know what you want to see and what sessions you want to go to. Usually for me there will be a few sessions I want to see and then some lunch and networking chats I want to pencil in.
Make sure you know the social events
Every conference has an opportunity to party and for me this is where most of the bonding and actual business gets done (well whilst I can still talk).
Make sure you know the timings and where the events are.
If its a conference that you haven’t been to before sometimes its good to have a look at the previous events they have done and poke through the photos to see what the event is like.
Make sure you know the hashtags etc
Find out what the hashtag will be on Twitter and make sure you have a panel in Tweetdeck or similar all lined up so you can start to see the build up tweets and then see all the coverage during the event.
At the event
Get to the event in good time (If the keynote isn’t on your list of must see sessions then avoid the big lines and register after its started).
Between sessions make sure you seek out the people you need to talk to and take the time to stroll the expo hall when available, the people on the stands can often give great advice and will often be more than happy to give you free advice and even free logins to play with.
If you go to a session make notes, don’t rely on your memory or asking for the slides. Your memory will be dulled by the inevitable hangover from the party and the slides will make NO SENSE at all without someone talking through them (I know mine don’t).
Lunch is often a good time to grab 15 minutes with someone to chat, most conferences make it easy by having large round tables for the attendees to eat their food at so go grab a seat near someone interesting and chat.
Make sure you know if there are any cocktail receptions or free networking drinks at the end of each day in the venue.
The after party
Get to the after party in good time. Depending on the timings of when it starts people will either plan to eat before or during the party. If you know someone who is friendly with some influential people try to see if you can tag along to the dinner but try to make sure you also have plenty of time to be at the party itself.
Remember that the after party is a great chance to get to know people you want to work with and not just a time to drink with the people you already know. Make sure you move around the venue and remember that literally ANYONE will be your friend for the 15 minutes you need if you buy them a drink!
Try and stay reasonably sober for the first hour or two, get your networking and chatting done and then relax and have fun.
After the event
Don’t wait a week or two to follow up, get emailing and setting things up straight away. Most people lead busy lives and leaving the contact a week means you’ve lost all the good will you built up during the networking or dinner.
Above all remember
Conferences are about the networking and the social. The talks are great and you can pick up some great tips but the chance to talk face to face is where the business gets done and where the long term relationships get forged.
If you don’t leave each event with a memory or a decent story to tell you really haven’t done the event justice!
See you all at ClickZ Live San Francisco, please feel free to try out your drink buying skills on me.. I won’t mind 🙂
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