Let’s face it: attending a conference or convention is expensive. It can also be difficult to justify those expenses using a traditional ROI model. And yet, most of us would agree that attending conferences is a great way to network; generate new leads; gain brand exposure and take in information we might not otherwise get elsewhere. So how can one ensure he or she can chalk up the next trip to an annual convention nets more than 18 holes of golf and a few nice dinners? As it does with most things, it starts with preparation and ends with execution.
Prior to attending a conference (either local or cross country), have a clear and open mind to get the most out of attending. It is important to finalize projects and tasks, assign the day to day you’ll miss during your absence to an assistant or colleague…anything else will be there for you upon your return!
What do you need to take? Airline confirmation numbers (print them, as more airlines are experiencing computer down time), flight itinerary, car rental documents (driver’s license, proof of insurance), hotel registration, conference registration, conference schedule and your credit cards (always bring more than one as credit cards are being compromised daily). It’s great to have this on your iPhone, iPad or similar electronics, but where your reception or wi-fi isn’t strong (as seems to be the case in many airport security lines), a hard copy is good to have.
Don’t forget business cards…lots of them. Use them to jot notes; and do the same for cards you collect. You’ll be grateful when you return and have to sort through dozens of new contacts. Also, your nametag…take it. Wear it!
Technology… requires us to support it so that it may support us. Cords, batteries and the new smaller power chargers, which are great. Most conferences have charging stations available, but they can be inconvenient; crowded or both. Carry a portable power source and be aware of the remaining battery life on each of your devices.
Social media… use it to let the world know that this professional is attending an industry conference to be better informed and educated for the sake of your clients. Take photos with speakers, influencers, or high level contacts. Share, Like and Invite them to your social media circles.
Once you are there… have you created a “must see” list, a “must meet” list and a “must attend” list? What products and services are you looking for? Review your vendor attendee list and schedule times to meet with them to discuss how their product may assist growing your business. Is there a speaker, sponsor or peer who intrigues you? Search them out and introduce yourself. Share with them why you felt it important to meet them. What classes or presentations interest you? Did you RSVP to attend prior or do you need to register upon arrival? Did you schedule your time so you aren’t over-lapping two different classes or presentations? Happy hours and nice dinners aside, attending a conference or convention is work…hard work! Organization is key to getting the most out of attending and the dollars you invested.
Upon returning home… follow up with the prospects, vendors, speakers or colleagues with whom you would like to build a relationship. Give them a few days (2-4) to catch up with their own duties before you reach out—don’t become one more of dozens of “to-do’s” for them. Chances are that you’re all going to be digging out once you return to the office! Connect ASAP with your new contacts on their preferred social medium with a short note reminding them of your discussion.
Not every conference will be the same, but there’s much more value than identifying or generating new prospects or clients at such events—although new clients are the ultimate target. You may find better vendors or better ways your existing vendors can help you. You may meet new peers who join you in profitable partnerships or even your own venture in the future. You may find powerful new sources of referral or information that help you grow your business. But you won’t get the most out of your travel and expenses without preparing and sticking to your plan!