Going to a conference? Make it a success by preparing before, actively participating during, and keeping engaged after.
I have just returned from the 2018 WBENC National Conference and Business Fair. 4,700 participants. Educational workshops. Matchmaker Meetings. Exhibit Hall with 366+ exhibitors. Breakfast, lunch and dinner events. Networking activities. Award presentations. Did I say 4,700 people??
Overwhelming? Well not for me because I’m a seasoned pro when it comes to this particular conference. I’ve been attending for years and I’ve developed some pre, during and post conference strategies that really work for making the most of the conference. I hope these can help you too.
- Do your homework: Visit the conference website and identify the major sponsors. Are they on your target list? Connect with them on LinkedIn and social media. Join and follow their groups.
- Decide on your expected outcome: who do you want to connect with? How many workshops do you want to attend? Who will you visit during the business expo? Be sure to register as a supplier/vendor on the website of your target corporations.
- Update your capabilities statement and stock up on business cards
- Double check on all conference deadlines. For example, eligibility for WBENC matchmaker meetings requires that you register for the full conference before the early bird deadline. Book your hotel early– to the extent possible stay at the host/mail conference hotel. This makes it easier for shuttles and transportation activities AND there is always lots of networking happening in the hotel lobby/bar area.
- Organize and/or participate in pre conference meet ups. This is a great way to get to know people attending the conference and get the camaraderie going
- Download the conference app and complete your profile
During the conference
- Wear your name badge at all times. Shorten the lanyard so people can easily see your name– this helps avoid the awkward moment when someone can’t remember your name.
- Attend the workshops and ask questions! Always state your name and company name when you step up to the microphone. Thank the panel for the great info and then ask your question.
- Use the conference hashtag and take photos and comment in social media.
- Introduce yourself. People expect that! Be a connector and introduce and welcome people to your group.
- Wear comfortable shoes and layer for temperature changes. I can’t stress that enough – no one can look and feel their best when all they can think about is how uncomfortable their shoes are! And bring a shawl or sweater.
- Write thank you notes. A handwritten note is best– this will set you apart because most people will send emails. An envelope will be opened more readily than an email. Who should you thank? Conference organizers; conference sponsors; workshop panelists; guest speakers. Beyond good manners, a thank you note gives you an opportunity for branding: use a note card with your logo. Tell a speaker how inspiring they were. Post that comment in their social media.
- Ask the contacts you made if you can put them on your mailing list.
- Connect with everyone you met on LinkedIn.
- Establish a follow up calendar for leads you made. Are you an author? Send them a copy of your book. Consider sending books/magazines on relevant topics to people you want to connect with– nurturing relationships is key to building trust and remaining top of mind.
- Celebrate your accomplishments at the conference: did you meet your outreach goals? Did you have a successful matchmaker meeting? Gain any insight that might open new markets or opportunities? Meet someone with whom you can form a strategic alliance?
Notice that I did not say celebrate a new contract? That very rarely happens. Conferences are for building relationships and for showcasing your talents and expertise. Be a resource. Be a connector and be open to opportunity but don’t judge yourself poorly if you don’t see immediate results.