Attending conferences on a regular basis can not only be a great opportunity to learn new things in your industry, but they can also result in meeting new people, networking and potentially earning new business. It is very easy to go to conference and get very little out of them, but there are a number of things that can be done to maximise your chances of getting yourself out there and getting the absolute best out of them.
Here are a few things to think about when attending conferences:
Plan ahead – If you have access to the conference schedule before you go, be sure to map out what you want to do in advance. This should help to maximise your attendance to lectures, tutorials, workshops, etc. Otherwise, the risk is that you could end up missing out on things if they needed to be booked up in advance or if distractions taking place on the day cause you to miss out.
Take business cards – You never know who you might end up meeting, so take business cards and lots of them, enough so that there is no risk that you will run out. Take leaflets and brochures containing more information and special offers as well, but only give them out if they are specifically brought up in conversation, otherwise it can look a bit forceful or desperate if given out willy-nilly.
Take notes – When listening to a speaker, it can be worthwhile taking notes, but more often than not conferences will make presentation slides available, either as a printout or to download online. Notes should therefore be taken if anything can be applied to your business, e.g. if something has given you an idea that you are worried you will forget otherwise.
Network – Sometimes networking at conferences can be more important than the events and activities at the conference itself, with hard-core networkers going to conferences solely for this reason. It is difficult to meet people during a lecture or seminar, so be sure to make the most out of meeting people between events, when taking coffee breaks or during lunch.
Make use of social media – If you use Twitter, find out if there is a conference hashtag – e.g. #abcconf – and apply it to all conference-related tweets. Anyone following the hashtag will see your tweets, which can be great for exposure and getting yourself noticed. If someone else attending sees your tweets, it can be an icebreaker, so another potential contact can be met. Your tweets may be valuable to those who have been unable to attend the conference, so it is a good way to get yourself noticed by others who show an interest but who may not necessarily be there in person.
Be careful going with colleagues or friends – Going to a conference with people you know can be a good thing: it can be less nerve-racking, plus if they know people who are attending then it can be a good way to be introduced to others. However, people who know each other tend to stick together, so there is the risk that you will not get to meet many people as you will be busy spending time with and talking to the people you turned up with. Hard-core conference goers will tell you that they like to go on their own for this reason – if you go on your own, you have no choice but to meet, socialise and network with others.