If you’re like every other human on the planet, when a conference rolls around you might wonder should I go to this conference? What am I going to get out of it? You might ask other people: “Why do you think I should go?” Soon, you’re stopping people in the hallway to get their opinion. Okay, maybe it’s not as bad as that, but conferences can feel like meetings–pointless and as if there are too many.
When I am asked about conferences, my answer is always the same. You have to go into a conference with a strategic plan of attack and an end goal in mind. Don’t go without doing your research. THIS is when people feel like they are wasting their time and money.
I advise that people do two things when they commit to attending.
- Preplan for what you will do during the conference.
- Plan what you will do post-conference.
Conferences are not just about bettering your business, they are also about bettering yourself, so you can become a better leader, and learn more about what’s going on in the world. This is your chance to really step your game up. If you want to succeed, get to the next level or build a business that can function without you, you’re going to have to get uncomfortable. If you want massive success, whether personal or professional, you need to get out of your comfort zone. You need to surround yourself with winners at all times. The people who are attending the conferences are the forward thinkers. They’re going to be the movers and shakers in the industry. You want to be around these people.
I’ve been to a number of conferences, both industry-related and also outside of the industry. I now realize that the events that I didn’t get the most out of weren’t necessarily bad events, but I wasn’t prepped.
First, I want to know who’s attending is because I want to make a hit list of prospective buyers or leads. I want to know who I want to interact with so I can plan properly. Next, I want to know what’s the cost associated with the hard dollar amount that I’ve got to lay out of pocket to go to this event? Is there a ticket price? Some of these conferences are free. For instance, last week I went to a conference that didn’t cost a dollar. Most of the meals were even included. If you’re working with a budget, you need to know. When you’re talking about meals on the road, they add up. Your hotel costs add up. Do your homework and see what it’s going to cost you before you go.
When you commit to this conference, what is the mission that you are trying to achieve while there? Who am I going to meet? What product, tools and software am I going to learn more about? These are critical questions that you need an answer to.
Make sure you also let people know you are going. I post about conferences on my personal Facebook profile. You might be able to connect with somebody who you never thought possible when you learn through a friend of a friend they are also going. Then you can reach out. A lot of these conferences give you an attendee list of who’s going to be there. When you know that, you can send an email to specific people to schedule time with them. You can set up lunches and drinks then invite people to join you.
Here’s a hidden secret that I have been doing now for years.
While I’m at the conference I’m on a mission to collect data. I even go so far as to create a landing page that captures lead data that I can use while we’re on site. You can send a premade landing page to a prospect while you’re there, or fill it out yourself. At the end of the first day, you’ll usually have 30 or 40 business cards. I will take a half-hour and manually input every one of those business cards into the landing page.
But I don’t stop there to make sure I make contact with the right people. In preparation for the conference, I type up three automated emails that I will send out to people I meet after the event. If you’re like me, you’re bringing a laptop so you can still get some work done while in the hotel or you can pull out of that conference if anything urgent happens. You need to also bring a notebook and pen to take notes. Use these tools at breakout sessions. And speaking of which, figure out what booths, trainings and sessions can’t be missed.
And guys, there is a dress code. So, make sure that you read up on it. At a recent conference I attended, the overview clearly stated what the dress code was for two dinners. But I can’t even begin to tell you how many people showed up in jeans and tee shirts. This is a professional event. These are professional people doing big things. Remember, your first impression is key. Make the wrong one and you might be seen as unapproachable or not serious.
It’s also okay if you have to turn your phone off because you need to be present. If you’re not present, you’re leaving money on the table. You might not get the opportunity to meet that special person who can influence your life.
Once on the flight home. I pull out my notebook from the event and create an after action report. I will take what I wrote in the heat of the moment and rewrite it so it’s more legible. Now I have time to really analyze it. Then I can turn it into an action item. At the end of any conference, strive to have several action items to handle when you get back to work and put them a timeline.
If you’ve got a team, when you get back to the office, get them all on the same page, and then delegate tasks to them. I didn’t plan for conferences this way for years and now do. The difference is clear. I can see the value. I have met more people because I have made more time. I have gotten more out of the speakers, and products and services because I plan and follow through.
Conferences are necessary events in almost every industry. Instead of dreading the next one, try these tips to get the most out of your attendance and see how much of a difference you feel when you come home. I bet it will be a big one.