“Attending conferences might be one of the best things you can do for your career.” – TheMuse
Conferences tend to lure in the best of us with dazzling images, exciting descriptions and an equally glamorous speaker line-up. You check out each speaker’s accomplishments and company profile and get goosebumps. You just know that missing this annual conference it would be the biggest tragedy of your career.
Unfortunately, there’s pretty much a conference for everything these days – from the latest social media marketing hacks to trends in freeze-dried food. Is it all relevant to you? Probably not.
So which ones should you actually go to? How do you know whether one’s better than the other?
We’re glad you asked. Here are some of the answers to your most frequently asked questions about business conferences.
Q: Which conference is the best one for me to attend? What makes one better than another?
A: Before you start flying off to Las Vegas for a vague conference about “Marketing Tips For Small To Medium Businesses From Entrepreneurs Who’ve Made It”, make sure you’ve checked out all the details.
Does the conference seem reputable? Is there a good speaker line-up? Are the themes being discussed actually relevant to your business?
Remember: there are no shortage of “experts” these days, nor of conferences that are simply money-making scams.
Check out the conference online.
See if there are any reviews you can glean from previous years in online forums or industry blogs. Is the conference hosted by an educational institution or local organisation? If so, the chances of it being legit are a lot higher than if its an independent conference!
Once you pick a likely conference, make sure to book it in advance (take advantage of earlybird rates) and if you’re travelling find decent accommodation nearby. Often conferences will have partnerships with hotels or you could check out the AirBnb options nearby.
Q: How do I choose the right sessions for me?
A: A lot of conferences these days have dedicated streams of content so you can participate in whatever is most relevant to you. If there are a few of you going, you can always divide and conquer the sessions to make sure you cover the most ground while attending content streams that are specifically of interest to you. Make sure to check the schedule beforehand and keep an eye on it for any last-minute changes.
Q. Is it worth taking notes?
A: You’re not going to retain everything you’ve learned, no matter how hard you try. And while you don’t want to be frantically scribbling away during the conference, making some notes can be helpful to summarise the presentation into key points that WILL be easy to remember.
Prepare a summary for your team
Another great way to retain what you’ve learned is by presenting back to your team after the conference. Try and make the takeaways relevant to your business – how can the business action what you’ve learned? You probably won’t have all the answers, so it's worth getting your team together for a little post-conference de-brief and brainstorming session.
For more tips on brainstorming, check out:
Set a deadline
When the onslaught of “normal” work hits, you’ll be so bogged down in the daily grind that you’ll forget all about the conference if you don’t set a deadline to come together with your team. Make sure you set a date and schedule it into everyone’s calendar!
Share the relevant parts of presentations
Make sure you get access to as much material from the conference as you can. Presentations are often shared afterwards and while the whole deck might not be relevant, you can certainly use diagrams, charts and examples or case studies to your advantage.
Q: How do I start networking?
“That chance conversation in the coffee line could make all the difference.”
A: Whether you’re a junior executive or an experienced manager, networking with strangers isn’t always easy. You’ve just entered a room full of people you don’t know, all dressed to impress. Where do you start?
Make yourself approachable
Be sure to wear name tags if they're provided, and try to represent your business...wear branded clothing if you have it. This is a good conversation starter and people interested in your business will be more likely to approach you.
Practice your “pitch”
You want conversation to flow naturally, but having an elevator pitch prepared – a short 30s summary of yourself or your business – will make your introductions flow that much more smoothly. People are attracted to confidence. So what are some interesting facts you can talk about?
Actively start conversations
Think about it this way – your chances of networking success are pretty high if you’re attending an industry specific conference that’s bursting with like-minded people. Finding opportunities for a chat in between the conference’s busy schedule might be tricky, but you can create these yourself. For example, if you make a few connections during Day 1, invite them for a drink that evening or breakfast before Day 2 starts.
Talk to the exhibitors
If you’re suffering from nerves, a great way to loosen up is by approaching the exhibitors and finding out more about what they do. Break the ice by telling them a bit about yourself.
Engage with the speakers
Don’t be afraid to ask questions during the presentation or hang around after a session to introduce yourself. If you see the speakers are inundated with people afterwards however, it might be better to follow up with them on Twitter instead and build your relationship that way (better than handing them a business card they’re likely to lose anyway!).
Q: Are the workshops even worth it?
A: In my opinion the workshops can often be more valuable that the presentations or talks themselves! You have better access to the speaker/presenter (sometimes even 1-on-1 time!) and in most cases will come away with a more memorable, tangible experience. Make sure you book in for workshops early – they’re likely to sell out quick!
Q: Should I go to the afterparty?
A: Yes! The after-party is a great way to connect with some of the people you’ve been bumping into throughout the day in a more relaxed and social setting. Besides, the speakers are likely to be there too! Don’t use it as an excuse to get out of control though – you’re still representing your business.
“In your search for better focus and performance, attend your next conference with high expectations and make the effort to reach them” – via 99U
So there you have it! Some practical, actionable advice to help you maximise your time at a business conference.