Every year, many of us attend at least a couple of events. Some of us also organize events for associations and professional circles. How do you make sure that you make the most out of the money, time and effort you spend? After attending dozens of conferences and organizing 101 events, 3 of which international in scope and attended by more than 120 clients, I found that there many actions that help me maximize the opportunity.
Here are 5 tips to consider when attending events:
1. Start with why
Attending a conference begins the moment you sign up for the event. It is a good idea to vet the program against one's concentration of interests, professional focus, and group affinity. You will make good use of your time by thinking about what you want to learn and how that compares with the proposed program. It is also possible that your main focus is to meet key influencers in an industry where you plan to transition. Or perhaps you know that you will be able to connect with partners and peers who usually attend such event.
For the events you organize -- can you craft an experience specific to the people you want to invite to attend? This is not very different from blogging or Italian meals: they are designed to be a draw for a certain kind of conversation and social opportunity.
2. Do your homework
When you sign up for a conference you obtain a more detailed program. Go through it and select the sessions that interest you the most ahead of time. Many large conferences offer back to back parallel sessions so you want to make sure you choose yours ahead of time. This will allow you to have more time with people you meet and feel less harried. If possible, obtain a list of attendees before the event. Review names, titles and companies that interest you. It will be easier to find them at the event if you know who you are looking for. Even better, contact them before the conference with an invitation to connect there.
For the events you organize -- Use RSVP. This is a great way to learn who's coming ahead of time. Over the years I have created amazing networking opportunities for attendees just by paying attention to the people who sign up. Think who should meet whom, be a good host and help make introductions.
3. Stay present
You are at the event, great. Now make sure you do not spend half the time looking to be at the next session or talking with the next person. That was the reason why you did your homework. It may seem a bit like common sense to say it -- you get the most out of being there by being present each single moment. If you're listening to a speaker, do so actively, leaning forward, participating even with your body language. Feedback is the most precious of gifts. When in conversations with other attendees, don't let your eye roam.
For the events you organize -- As you introduce attendees to each other and to the speaker, remember that it's about them, not you. The better to provide a brief reason why they should meet, their common interests, etc.
4. Be specific
This goes without saying; you are representing yourself as well as your company. It is easier to be remembered when you have a sense of purpose and are centered on it. The better you can communicate exactly why you are there and what you hope to get out of the event, the greater the chance that you will realize your goal(s).
This is valid also for the events you organize -- what's in it for you? Is it visibility within a professional circle? Do you want to establish credibility in a certain environment?
You collected all the notes, business cards and contact information from the conference. Now you're ready to organize the information and act upon it. I like to enter the contact details in my Palm with snippets from our conversations. I then cross reference the list of people with whom I connected with the LinkedIn database. The purpose of cleaning up your notes and entering the data is not to collect contacts; you want to plan action steps right away.
The point is to launch permission-based activities that will allow you to stay in touch with the professionals you met in the following weeks and over time. Your network can be your currency -- who you know and knows you matters.
Some of my follow-through actions are sending hand written thank you notes, sharing knowledge in the form of articles and books, and introducing people to other professionals with common interest. How do you make the most out of your time and money? What is your favorite follow-through from someone you've met?