Professional events are an inevitable part of our working lives. And needless to say, when you attend a conference, you want to have a valuable and engaging experience. But this won’t happen if you’re not exactly sure why you’re attending, how you should divide your time and attention, and what you want to get out of the experience.
During our latest #SEOcafe chat, we’ve discussed several important tactics and ways to succeed at any conference you’re planning to attend with Sha Menz, lead software architect, penalty recovery specialist, speaker, and conference coordinator along with our other chat participants.
What are the ways a conference might help your business thrive as an attendee/sponsor/speaker? How can you pick the right one?
When choosing which event to attend, there are two important questions to answer:
Does this event fulfill your content goals, and are you sure you’ll learn something new there?
Can it help you achieve your interpersonal goals – in other words, will you meet someone new there and grow your connections?
Let’s see how all conference participants can benefit from professional events.
Learning. This is probably the most obvious reason for attending a conference. People are motivated by their desire to learn from industry experts and get inspired by their ideas. But be strategic with your time. Conferences are packed with various sessions and presentations, so be thoughtful, look through the agenda and choose which sessions are the best fits for you.
Meeting with experts. Conferences are the best place to contact with experts in your niche. You can get valuable information and knowledge from them, and learn more about famous names in your industry.
Networking. Today, networking is a powerful tool for achieving both professional and personal goals. At conferences, you can create new connections, meet people who are likely to share your same interests and work in the same field. This is a great way to nurture, bolster and expand your network.
All these experiences will make you feel like a knowledgeable, active, and valuable member of your professional field.
Product and brand representation. Sponsorship can be an amazing marketing strategy, if planned and executed properly. Attending an event is important, but being a sponsor places your company and your brand in front of a captive audience. Attendees are most likely to be interested in the same industry that you work in. Sponsoring an event is a brilliant way to tell people about yourself and your product. But keep in mind that you won’t be the only one in front of the audience. Make sure your presentation stands out.
Conversations with potential clients. By sponsoring different events, companies seize the opportunity to deliver their message to attendees. Besides having the chance to present their products, this is a great way to increase brand awareness and build trust with potential customers and prospects.
Getting customer feedback. Some companies distribute free samples and offer free trials to their audience in exchange for honest feedback. This is very useful information that enables companies to adjust to their audience’s needs and wants accordingly.
Skill-building. Public speaking helps you develop many valuable skills: you learn to persuade and argue, develop courage and build confidence.
Professional credibility. Speaking at both large and small conferences improves your credibility. If you have astonishing content, your audience will listen to you, tell other people in your industry about you and share your presentation. This is an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and build authority among other experts.
Personal branding. Conferences can also be great for your brand, as people get to see and interact with speakers. Bear in mind that you can’t just show up for your speaking slot and then leave immediately. You have to spend a lot of time meeting new people and interacting with your listeners and other speakers after events.
Pre-conference checklist: What steps should attendees take before the event starts?
So, you’re going to a conference. The outcome of this experience depends on several things, including your preliminary work. Here’re some preparatory steps to take before the event starts.
Review the agenda
Make sure you look through the agenda carefully and use it to make clear plans and set goals. Think about what you’d like to learn and who you want to speak with at the conference, as well as how you’re going to manage your time.
Don’t push yourself to the brink of exhaustion; it’s very difficult to attend every single presentation, luncheon, cocktail party, and networking reception. You’re going to be worn out, which definitely won’t help you get the most out of the event.
Familiarize yourself with the venue
Check out the conference map, so you don’t get lost there. Make sure you don’t miss any important information. You don’t want to show up late and make a negative first impression with other attendees and speakers because you couldn’t find the right place.
You can take a picture of a map provided by the event host and keep a copy on your phone.
Find out who’s going to the event and who you’re going to meet with, and then reach out to them. Don’t simply hope that you will run into your prospects at the conference. Everyone will be busy. Before the event, let them know that you’ll both be in attendance. If they’re free, schedule a meeting with them so you’ll have their undivided attention.
Research the speakers
You’re going to meet new people and make connections at the event. But it’s not always easy to start a conversation with a person you’ve never met before. Learning about people that you want to meet with beforehand will help you break the ice.
Think about what you need
Make sure you have everything you’ll need during your trip beforehand, including materials for your presentations and demos, and enough business cards.
Set an out-of-office reply
Sometimes people simply forget about this, because they know they will be checking their email during the conference. Nevertheless, you certainly won’t be able to respond to people as promptly as you would if you were in the office. It’s better to let your customers and partners know that they might not be able to get in touch with you for a few days. HubSpot collected a list of funny and creative out-of-office automatic replies.
Charge all your devices
Every day of the conference you’re going to use various devices. Make sure all your phones and laptops are fully charged before each event. Also, check for charging stations at the venue.
What networking tactics should attendees use during the event to get the most out of it?
As I’ve already mentioned above, networking is an essential part of modern business. And professional conferences offer multiple benefits. You get to meet new people, talk to industry experts, and learn from their stories and business cases. But it’s important to ensure that you’re doing it appropriately and effectively.
Arrive a day earlier. If you can, arrive a bit early to the event. Usually the atmosphere is less hectic. And it’s easier for you to engage with people, when they’re not so busy and in a hurry. Also, if you register for the event early, you can avoid standing in lines.
Stay organized. Every conference involves a huge flow of information. At the end of the day, you will have in your possession many business cards and notes with names and numbers. This information is important and useful, but if you return to your office with a mess of notes without any labels, you’ll spend a lot of time organizing everything.
At least add headings to your notes and organize your contacts. You can write down information about which session or time you met important people and what you talked about with them. But be sure to review the notes that you made during the sessions.
Take initiative. Some people don’t feel comfortable starting conversations with strangers. Indeed, this requires courage, and it’s especially difficult when it’s the first conference you’ve ever attended, but take your courage.
Change your mindset. You’re not networking just because you have to, or because someone told you to. You’re doing it because it’s very good for your career. Attend networking events, be proactive, talk to everyone, take the initiative.
Attend the afterparty, because sometimes this is where you can make even more new professional connections. Some of the best relationships start in an informal atmosphere.
Be memorable. Sharing your expertise and experience will make people remember you. If you can create captivating content, engage with your audience, and offer good advice, they will remember you and consider you an expert.
Lee Odden offers several great content tips for professional events:
Create content that your audience can participate in (e.g., take photos of them and then post to your Facebook, so people can tag themselves).
Try to motivate desired behaviors with your content (e.g., ask your audience questions).
Include a report in your thank you page.
Use shareable and tweetable content in your presentation. Also, have someone from your team monitor social buzz during your presentation.
Follow the conference hashtag. Many conferences have a special hashtag. Make sure you’re tagging your tweets and photos in Instagram properly during the event. Always monitor this hashtag throughout the conference, and add all people who live tweet.
Schedule follow-up emails. Even if you do everything right during the event, don’t underestimate the benefits of sending follow-up emails. Send them after the conference; mention how great it was to meet in person and share an experience. Close your email by letting them know you look forward to staying in touch.
How can attendees bring the offline online during an industry event?
Integrating your activities during an offline event into the online space is a highly effective way to engage your customers and community members. Here are eight tactics for doing this properly.
Contribute through social media channels. Many events have Facebook groups, Twitter and Instagram streams. You can join them, share the event on social and contribute your part to covering it.
Get media exposure. Get to know people in your industry. Connect with influencers via LinkedIn and Twitter. Comment on their work and share it. You can also ask them to stop by your booth to meet you in person.
Live tweeting. Live tweeting increases your chances of making new contacts at the event, growing your company’s audience and connecting with potential partners and collaborators. Tweet great insights that are valuable to onsite attendees and that will help you enrich a wider audience. Find speakers’ Twitter handles in advance. Also, it’s better to let your followers know about your plans to live tweet beforehand, so they can tune in on time.
Post photos from the event on social. Take photos so you can give people snapshots of what’s happening at the conference and at your booth in particular. Post pictures of speakers and influencers on social and tag people on them.
Live streaming. Live streaming is an easy way for attendees, presenters and conference organizers to grow their audiences. The number of people who can attend an event is always limited for several reasons, like difficulties associated with travel or being away from the office. But these challenges can be bypassed with a live stream, which can help you reach a large number of viewers. Use mobile apps, like Snapchat and Periscope to share snippets of your talks with your audience.
Create and curate content. Content creators know how difficult it is sometimes to find inspiration and fresh ideas. But it’s always a good option to create content based on your experience during an event. Use pictures and videos that you took during the conference, create a buzz around them, and post interviews, takeaways, recaps, etc.
What was the best souvenir or piece of swag you got at an event?
No doubt, the most important part of any professional event is your speech or presentation, which should attract attention to your company or brand. Nevertheless, little surprises and gifts can make an even better impression. Sometimes the event-marketing power of souvenirs and swag pieces can be surprising.
But if you want to delight attendees, your swag must be awesome. Otherwise, people will simply forget about your gift or even throw it away. We collected ideas for great swag pieces that will help you impress everyone. Our chat participants also told us about the best souvenirs they’ve received at events.
- Portable device chargers. Conference attendees use their mobile devices all day long. By the end of the day, or even earlier, their batteries are likely to be at 50 percent. Anyone who receives a charger will definitely remember the name of the person who gave them such a great gift.
- Moleskine items. Notepads and pens are among the most common giveaways, but they’re a bit overdone. You’re unlikely to surprise anyone with just a pen. However, this doesn’t mean that you should totally give up on office-related giveaways. If you choose items for notetaking, make sure they’re special and exclusive. Even though everything is done digitally today, nice-looking Moleskine products are still very popular.
- Care packages. The best swag items are ones that provide value. Just imagine – conference attendees spend the whole day on their feet! A branded care package can be a real help. This package can include bandages, aspirin, a Band-Aid dispenser, a quick snack, etc.
- Unique food items. Food is other popular type of swag. Who doesn’t like cookies, candies or jelly beans? Since many people use food as giveaways at conferences, you should try something unique, which can help you stand out from the crowd.
- Bluetooth-tracking devices. These small things aren’t the cheapest type of swag, but they’re very special and useful. Tracking devices help you make sure you never lose your important items again. People who attend international conferences and travel a lot would be very happy to receive such a valuable gift (and it will probably be their favorite).
- Reusable water bottles. This swag item might not be as fancy or exclusive as the previous one, but it’s still very useful. It’s convenient and much better than an open glass of water. Also, today many people are environmentally conscious.
- Stress balls. Unique stress relief balls are a great gift for anyone who works in an office, which sometimes can be incredibly stressful. People can easily squeeze these little things at their desks.
- Seasonal things. People find swag bags full of seasonal things unique, fun, and useful. For example, if the event is hosted in the summer, you can include in your giveaway package items like Frisbees, beach towels and bags, and other items for beach-related activities.
Check for more valuable tips how to make your conference swag bag stunning in Andy Johnston’s post “Fill Conference Bags With Things People Won’t Throw Away.”
What is the one thing attendees are not doing but should before/during/after a conference?
Now that we figured out what attendees should do before, during and after a conference, let’s find out some important things that some people ignore or forget about.
You can contact conference organizers to ask if you can help somehow. For example, you might volunteer to speak, introduce organizers to other speakers, moderate a panel or something else. Being a part of the conference gives you plenty of networking opportunities, sometimes even more than just attending the event.
Ask lots of questions
One of the main reasons why you attend an event is to learn. Make your experience as enlightening as possible. Talk to speakers, authors and people at booths, and ask them for professional recommendations. Be an active participant. Also, make sure you ask thoughtful questions and listen carefully to people’s answesr. Allow others to shine. Talk less and listen more.
Offer to train others in what you’ve learned
After each event you will return home with new knowledge and skills. Share this information with the rest of your team. Generally, companies tend to send employees with some experience in teaching and training to conferences.