You only have so much time and energy throughout the year, so you may have to be strategic about the events you choose to attend. With so many options, what type of event is right for you?
Are you looking to gain more industry insights? Then a conference might be the right fit for you. Do you care more about networking with as many like-minded peers as possible? Check out a convention.
A good way to identify a suitable conference is to ask your clients about the conferences they attend.
- Conference: Focuses on larger industry issues and trends, and typically lasts 2-4 days. Keynote speakers are industry leaders, and panellists are industry players (usually sponsoring the event for the exposure). There’s usually not much discussion… it’s a place where you bring your laptop, takes notes, and get inspired with new ideas and insights.
- Convention: A less formal version of a conference, where discussion and dialogue are more face-to-face and allows for plenty of networking opportunities. This is where you are able to talk about the work you’ve been doing, and meet other attendees. This is a great place to meet a wide variety of people.
- Tradeshow: A place for companies in a specific industry to have a booth and demonstrate their most recent solutions. It’s a curated marketplace, if you will, and it’s one of the most effective ways to meet serious buyers. It’s also a great way to see what your fellow competitors are up to.
- Summit: A more exclusive event because it usually involves exclusively top-level executives. You will meet other people of the same caliber. Also, new industry information is usually shared at summits before it is passed out in the open.
A bigger event isn’t always better, because it’s all about quality over quantity. Attending huge events at large city centers will cost you a lot of money, and you might experience low ROI because there’s just so much going on. If you attend one with fewer attendees but a better audience-fit, you will walk away with higher-quality leads.
And now, here are some actionable tips for before, during, and after the event.
Connect with key people in advance
Research the people who will be attending the event and create a shortlist of your targets. Engage with them before the event through social media: retweet them, comment on their blog, etc. The more touch points the better. Then, when you meet at the event you have something to talk about and they’ve heard of you so you’re not going in “cold” (you’ve warmed up the relationship unlike your competitors vying for the same person’s attention).
Stay at the event’s hotel
When it comes to booking accommodation, stay at the hotel associated with the event, because most of the exhibitors and/or speakers will be staying there. It’ll be a more convenient place to connect.
Get the lay of the land
Look around the neighborhood for coffee shops, restaurants, and places to check out. This can be a good conversation starter (“Hey, did you hear about that cool cocktail lounge nearby? Gordon Ramsay frequents there!”), but more importantly you can ask people to meet you there before or during the event, avoiding the hotel lounge or bar that may get over-crowded/bearing.
Take notes in the back of business cards
When you collect a business card, always take a minute to jot down some notes (on the back of their card). This will be important when you follow up with them later. Things to note: Their name (what they prefer to go by), something about them to help you remember (red hair, has a dog), what you talked about, and something personable that will help that person remember you (you both love the same TV show).
Leverage the event organizers
Most people are so focused on meeting other delegates that they forget about the event organizers. If you want to be introduced to a workshop speaker, the event planners might be able to help you track him or her down and even introduce you!
If starting a conversation isn’t your strong suit, you might want to attend events with smaller workshops, because it will make the environment less intimidating. Some leading questions you could use:
- “Is this your first time at this conference?”
- “What do you think about the day so far?”
- “Who has been your favourite speaker?”
Conferences nowadays will most likely have a designated hashtag to engage its attendees on social media. This will usually be done through Twitter or Instagram, and it’s a less intimidating platform for you to reach out and start a conversation. When you’re winding down for the day, you can simply designate 15 minutes to check Twitter and tweet at the speakers on what you thought about their speech.
Observe & learn
If you are looking to establish thought leadership, events are a great learning ground to observe how current industry thought leaders think, how they present during keynote presentations, and how they interact with others. Study their body language, the tone of voice they use, and what leadership qualities they exert that you want to learn. Take notes on what you liked, what you didn’t like, and use this material to guide your next speaking engagement.
Wait a few days for their inbox to clear from the deluge of solicitation follow-ups, and craft an email that i) demonstrates that you listened carefully to what they were saying, and ii) presents a solution to one of their challenges (not related to what you do).
You want to appear genuinely helpful, either with a recommendation or with a business introduction. If you go straight for the kill like everyone else, you’ll turn them off and damage the relationship. It takes time to build trust.
Bucket your conference contacts into a few groups, and set up a nurturing campaign customized for the pain points in each group. Your campaign should be very thoughtful so take your time – it can take days and it’s fine. Come up with helpful literature, or even research for custom literature for them. You can even outsource that using a service like AskWonder.
As long as you took notes on their key questions, challenges, and problems, you have lots of ground to cover. Focus on “how can you help?” and ignore the natural inclination of “how can you sell?”
Don’t expect to have a spark with everyone that you speak with at the conference! Otherwise you’ll get disappointed. Nevertheless, you should always do your best to be genuine because you don’t know whom they know and they can introduce you to.
It’s also important to take a day after the event to decompress and enjoy some silence. After all, you just spent the past 2-3 days getting bombarded with information and talking your head off with strangers. It can be severely draining…
And if you made some new acquaintances that are in your city, make plans to meet up for coffee or grab some drinks to discuss partnership ideas over the next few weeks. Always a great way to nurture relationships and build your network.