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8 Tips for Agencies to get the most out of Conferences

Every year, the creative sector is host to a number of conferences and events where agencies, influencers and creative thinkers get together, discuss ideas and trends, and sow the seeds of future collaborations and partnerships.

conference

Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Conferences are vital to the continuing innovation of the creative sector, but they can also be daunting if you're new to the format. If you're attending a conference on behalf of your agency, you'll need to ensure you get the most out of the seminars, workshops and connections. Here are 8 tips to help you survive – and thrive – at a design, marketing, branding or an advertising conference:

1. Choose the Right Conference, and Send the Best Delegate. Every year there are several conferences your agency could benefit from, and it's impossible to attend them all. It's important to take the time to assess which conferences will offer the best ROI for your agency.

Choose conferences that have a close relationship to your agency's core business, and also those where industry leaders are more likely to attend. Make a list of all potential conferences and talk to previous attendees to find out which ones they recommend.

As important as choosing the right conference is choosing the right delegate. You need someone who understands your agency's mission statement, and feels comfortable conversing in a room full of strangers. If you're sending a delegate to speak, have them run over their presentation to the office first, to allow time to troubleshoot any potential problems.

2. If you have a table, set up near the food. Conference attendees will always congregate around the food tables, so see if you can snag a table near the shrimp cocktails. The trick to this is usually to book your table early.

If you've ended up in a spot far from the delicious action, then grab handfuls of your swag and station yourself near the food or drinks.

3. Separate Action from Wisdom. How often do you come away from a conference with pages of scribbled notes you never again read? Are you always struggling to remember that great ideas you had during a session?

When I'm at a conference, I keep two separate files of notes – one on "Wisdom" – quotes, ideas, concepts that I've enjoyed. The other is for "Action" – people to follow up with, solutions to old problems, and other practical things I need to do when I return. This allows me to quickly convert ideas gleaned from the conference into tangible results.

4. Categorise business cards. At a conference, most meetings and conversations end in an exchange of business cards. This means by the end of the event your wallet is bursting at the seams with little bits of card, and it can be difficult to remember who each person was and what, if anything, you were going to contact them about.

As you receive each card, sort them into categories - perhaps one for "potential new clients", one for "creative industry contacts", one for "potential collaborations" and one for "who the hell are you?" You could use different pocket in your jacket or wallet for the purpose of sorting. When you get a chance, throw away those in the latter category and write a note to yourself on the other cards, reminding yourself what you talked about. When you return from the conference, follow up with the initial categories in order.

If You're Speaking

The following tips are specifically for conference delegates who are giving presentations.

5. Use Specific Examples. Attendees don't want to hear generic advice or ideas - they want concrete examples that demonstrate what you're discussing has practical applications. Most creatives think visually, so if you're talking about a topic like flat design, you need to show examples so people can understand what you're talking about.

6. Don't read from your slides. Slides should be there to accentuate your central argument, not hold it up. Use slides to show visual examples, tables, funny cartoons, and list focus points.

7. Practice makes you Perfect. Practice your presentation to the other team members in your agency. They will be able to give you pointers and identify areas where you may encounter problems or resistance. If you're feeling really nervous, it can help to practice at home in front of the mirror a couple of times, until you feel confident with the material you want to present.

8. Be yourself, and have fun! Remember that every presenter is feeling just as nervous as you are. Remember that you've worked on this project for several months, and you know it inside and out. Smile and enjoy yourself – you wouldn't have been chosen to speak if someone didn't have the confidence you could do a good job.

Is your agency attending any conferences this year? What are your top tips for attending and speaking at conferences and events?