Before the Conference
- Plan which sessions to attend. Note who the speakers are for all of the sessions as well as the content (you generally have access to this information before the conference). Check for target clients, alliance partners and competitors and decide whether it’s worth going to a presentation to be able to get to talk to someone from a key target, or to find out what they are doing.
- Sort out your logistics. Book flights that give you time to get to the conference allowing for flight delays. If the conference is in a hotel (and they often are), try to make sure that you stay in that hotel to a) get the special discounts that the conference will obtain for you and b) make it a lot easier for you to get between your room and the sessions.
- Clear your ‘to-do’ list. Easier said than done, but taking conference calls during the sessions and working in the breaks means missing networking opportunities and not getting value for money.
- Divide and Conquer. Try to find out if anyone else from your company is attending the conference, make contact with them and try to split target sessions between you, compare notes etc.
- Take a lot of business cards. They're easy to carry, and if you don't use them, so what?
- Know what to say. Sooner or later, someone will ask you about your company. Work out what you are going to say about the firm and your role.
- Timing is everything. Try to be around in the general area before the sessions start and during breaks. You never know who you might meet, or what you might find out.
- Be an Ambassador. If appropriate for the dress code, consider wearing branded (or otherwise 'conversation worthy' clothing so that you’re noticeable). At RSA, a woman walked up to me and literally asked for the shirt off my back. Note: This is not always a good thing - and I do have witnesses!
- Work out what you want to get out of each session. Do you want to talk to the speaker afterwards? Would you like a demonstration? How does the session add to what you already know?
- Collect business cards. When you speak to someone, who you might want to contact again, be sure to collect a business card. Write on the back a little about that person (business & personal info), what you discussed and any other useful information to jog your memory when you get back.
- Enter all vendor raffles. You never know what you might win.
- Work the crowd. Sit next to different people at each session and introduce yourself to them. If possible, review the attendee list and be strategic in who you sit next to.
- Maintain a ‘to do’ list. Whenever something strikes you as interesting or you should follow up on, make sure you write it down and then action it when you return to your office.
- Get business cards into your CRM system. A business card in your bag is not much use. In your company CRM system, it shows other people who come into contact with that person who else knows them.
- Follow up. Write personalized emails where appropriate to people that you met, either sending them information that might be of value to them, or suggesting a follow up discussion or meeting.
- Be timely. Make follow-up calls / emails within a week of the end of the conference.
- Keep your CPE certificate. You may be audited one day and be glad you did.
- Share your knowledge. Tell other people in the office what you found interesting, and keep the course material in a place that other people can use it.
Congratulations! If you follow these steps then you will find that you get a lot more out of conferences, both for yourself and the company.