Attending and networking at industry conferences can be a great way to build business for entrepreneurs. Conference season is upon us, and it’s a great time to review your strategy! However conferences can be expensive for small business owners, and it’s a good idea to prepare to make the most out of any conference you want to attend. Here are some excellent tips to help you make the most out of any conference.
Mindset & Planning
Conferences can be exhilarating, wonderful, exciting, and a great way to breathe life into your small or solo business. However, they can also be completely overwhelming for some people. People sometimes laugh when I share that, as a coach – OFTEN the most important and influential work I experience with clients is on mindset: helping people navigate their thoughts, fears and desires! Once you are able to clearly think through what you want, accomplishing it is much easier. To avoid overwhelm, it’s important to organize the inside space of your mind before you go so that you can make the most out of what you will experience. This requires you to sit down a few weeks prior to any conference or event, review the site, presenters, session materials, the facility and your travel plans. I also like to review and update my packing list at this time to be sure I have things ready when it comes time to pack! This one planning step can give you a real jump start and help you get your thoughts clearer on what you want to accomplish.
Identify your personal goals and prepare for success
Decide on your main goals for attending the conference. Clear goal setting will help guide your decision making throughout the conference. Do you want to meet people? Learn about new industry products and innovations? Deepen your knowledge and expertise? Make sales? Identify joint venture partners and agreements? Increase your blog followers? Remember you can do anything, but you can’t do everything! (Trust me… I’ve tried – and ended up WIPED, tired, sore, angry and hungry at the end of the day – feeling like I didn’t hit ANY of my marks!) Nothing needs to be set in stone, but having some goals is key to staying calm and getting the most out of your adventure. For an excellent article on how best to prepare prior to leaving for a conference, check out Chris Brogan’s 27 Things To Do Before A Conference blog post.
Go for what you don’t know
It’s very tempting to go to sessions about which I know a lot of information, however you’ll probably get more out of those that offer you a new perspective or new ideas. If you consider conference attendance as an investment in personal development and education, go for what you don’t know. Look to attend sessions that offer information on the areas in business you need to strengthen. Have you been putting off certain projects or ideas because of a skills or knowledge gap? Are there areas you’d like to explore in more detail but never find the time? Is there a particular speaker you’d like to rub elbows with, snap a picture and drop it into your newsletter? Are you considering expanding your service offers or products to particular groups? Look for topic areas that might cover those and help you over that hurdle of inaction.
Plan your Agenda
Take a look at the conference schedule ahead of time. Check out the speakers and the session summaries. Create an outline for yourself of all of the sessions you’d like to hit (even if they’re offered concurrently!) Many conferences offer planning tools, online calendars, and apps that will help you with this process. Even if there aren’t any planning tools, it easy to create a spreadsheet on a cloud based tool such as Evernote or Google Drive. Having a daily agenda for yourself can keep you on track. One of the things I’ve done recently is actually create the agenda in my calendar tools so I get reminders of where sessions will be, at what times. I love the automatic reminders that pop up on my phone. PS – DON’T FORGET TO ADD TIME TO EAT!! This is an easy thing to overlook! So, I always bring some easy-to-carry snacks such as meal/protein bars, nuts and an apple in my bag just in case. I also like to start with a real breakfast and end the day with a nutritious dinner with a few colleagues.
The Law of Two Feet
Several years ago I attended a conference and fortuitously sat next to someone who taught me the ‘Law of Two Feet’. After the first 10 minutes of a boring session we had wandered into, she leaned over and politely whispered in my ear “Have you ever heard of the Law of 2 feet?” I shook my head no, and she proceeded to say: “God gave you 2 feet so you can use them when you need to. Want to check out another session?” Needless to say, I exercised the Law of Two Feet that day and never looked back! If you see this event as an investment in your own personal development, it’s most important to manage your experience every second! Think of your time as the most valuable commodity at the conference. Take responsibility for what is happening as you attend sessions, events, cocktail parties, and with whom you socialize. If you’re not learning anything, get moving and head to a new session or event that will contribute to your goals.
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Quality Over Quantity
In my early years of conference attendance, I was in the ‘Gather More Info” stage of business… I wanted to ‘get the most out of my investment’ and when I said most, I mean – MOST: Most stuff, most people, most information, attending the most sessions… IF you get the picture – I was in a gathering mode, largely fueled by the hidden sub conscious reason of “I don’t know enough”. UGH! Sad, but true! Well, I’ve learned – and now I really go for a very different experience. I KNOW that more is accomplished when you take the time to truly build relationships and talk more deeply to find connections and join opportunities that will NEVER present themselves to you if you’re flitting from table to table to try to meet the most people. SO, if the gigantic mixer events are not working for you, then gather a group and suggest a more private affair. Think “quality over quantity” when socializing with people. Although you may meet several hundred people at any event, it’s those with whom you really connect that will remember you and seek you out in the future.
Manage Your Time Well
One of the most recent conferences I attended took place in New Orleans, LA… OH MY GOODNESS… Well, if you know me – you know that New Orleans is MY kinda town! So much to see and do, so much history, so much incredible food, so much MUSIC to enjoy, so many beautiful people to play with!! Well, in addition to being a conference presenter, a panelist, juggling an EXPO booth for my business, and managing my social frenzy I can say – I REALLY don’t know how I survived a full week there with nearly 1,000 of my closest business colleagues! BUT, what I learned was that you need to be realistic with your time every day. Although you’ve cleared your schedule for a few days, you still have work you’re responsible for, family to check in on, and at some point you’ll need some sleep. Avoid overfilling your schedule. Try to avoid returning home haggard and unable to execute, scratch that, function.
Follow Up Plan
The devil is in the details and that’s especially true when you’re following up after attending a conference or event. So many people have the greatest of intentions, but without a follow-up plan in place for everything and everyone you’ve encountered, the details will get you and you’ll find yourself a few months later with a hand-full of business cards, not remember who was who. One of the best things that has helped me with the card collections is to jot a quick note on the back of each as I meet new people. The note may include meeting place, or depending on our conversation, I’ll note my ‘next action’ based on that person’s follow-up interest.
A great way for entrepreneurs to make the most of conferences is to be sure that you cover off on the ‘next steps’ with new people. I like to group follow up actions into categories that ensure an ongoing relationship with people. For instance, some categories I use are:
- Add to list – for anyone who might be interested in following me
- JV Opportunity – for anyone interested in doing something together as a list building venture or offering a class
- Guest Blogger – for anyone who might be a fellow blogger and interested in posting on my blog as a guest
- Radio Show – for anyone I meet who may benefit from listing to content from a past radio show, or a potential guest for a future show
- Free Training/Teleclass – for anyone interested in the subject matter I cover, I have a few offers that work as list builders while offering great content to my ideal clients
- Presentation/Media Kit – for anyone who might be interested in hosting me as a presenter
- Workshop – for anyone who may be in the next stage of business and ready for an upcoming workshop or webinar I may offer
At the very least I like to have a follow-up ‘Nice to meet you…’ email for people I meet. Typically my post-conference email offers them the opportunity to opt into my email list and download a free resource, ebook, webinar or offer. According to the Canned Spam Act you cannot add people to your email list without their permission, so this works well to create the bridge between the events and build an offer for ongoing communication. This step alone can really help you build your list.
Share Your Tips Below!
What are some of your best ways to prepare for conferences? Please add your tips in the comments below. Return next week for my awesome Conference Checklist!