I've attended my share of conferences and events over the years. Whether local professional association gatherings, or one-week long affairs in a remote locale, I found that the best way to get the most out of your money - energy and time - is to prepare in advance.
As I wrote in 5 tips to maximize event attendance, you start with why you are going, do your homework, stay in the present at the actual conference as you meet people, are specific about what you seek, and follow through once you get back home. Preparation allows you to have the desired experience. It also lets others experience you and your brand to the fullest.
Take for example an upcoming conference for marketers in the B2B space that will be held in Boston. Let's say you take advantage of the special discount you can have as a reader/subscriber of this blog and sign up for the Marketing Profs B2B forum, June 9 & 10, 2008.
Use the special code ESPK08 to get $200 off the price of registration - $350 off when you register before May 19. If you live in Boston proper, this is low hanging fruit. Can I persuade you to attend?
1. Why Go?
You want to drive sales and the old ways do not work for you anymore. Doing more of the same - advertising, direct marketing, public relations, promotions, etc. - with less budgets (if you are like me) will not do the trick. In fact, your company may slide if your competitors are funded more generously.
Marketing in tight economic cycles - whether real or hyped - has its challenges. Psychologically, your prospects may have shut down on you. And you have fewer resources to do more. Sometimes less is just less. Those times require a different approach. One that is has more customer intelligence underneath and leaves a better wake behind it.
This is the forum for you.
2. Do Your Homework
Now that you know the value of this event is real, find out who's going to be there. Personally, I am thrilled if I think that my colleagues from other companies are attending. We do not learn in isolation anymore. I was talking with a colleague from a company that operates in a similar field as mine recently and we agreed that the best ideas emerge from collaboration, where passion carries the conversation and information is free flowing. That is the whole point of open source.
By far the easiest group of people in attendance to figure out are the speakers. Follow that link and see for yourself. This is quite a line up. Let me introduce you to a few people from my network:
- Marketing Profs Ann Handley, who is an amazing writer, editor and contributor;
- Crayon's Greg Verdino who will walk everyone through the essence behind how to stay current with trends to support your business acumen;
- CrossTech Media's Chris Brogan who will talk about social media and sales leads;
- Author and PR professional David Meerman Scott who will talk about word-of-mouse marketing;
- Crayon's Consigliere Scott Monty will be on a panel with Lewis Green and Robin Carey moderated by Paul Dunay titled "Is Social Media Harder for B2B vs. B2C?";
- I will talk about making your Web site sticky without raising eyebrows - you can use social media strategies and tactics to have a marketing conversation with your customers without calling them such, maximize your exposure, and put your company in its favorite spot, that of customer engagement.
3. Stay in the Present
As these things go, I know it is very tempting to multi task by holding two or more conversations - one with yourself in your head, one with the speaker and group, and potentially one on Twitter or your blog. Increase your learning potential by delaying that kind of gratification and join the flow that develops in the room. By staying present both at the sessions and with the individuals you meet, you actually learn and accomplish more.
You can find out what you have in common, what the other person is looking to accomplish, what they need - they could be potential customers, you never know. Staying present will give you a tremendous advantage - that of being remembered as attentive and involved. You engage by being engaged.
4. Be Specific About What you Seek
Ask questions, participate, share, stay focused. Rehearse as necessary, too. I have this exercise where I visualize my objectives, flesh them out in my mind, and prepare enough to be able to articulate what I want/need with ease. Then I can adapt to the environment in which I am. How specific should you be? I have gone as far as having business cards imprinted with that message in the back.
Imagine you are at a social mixer and everyone will be asking you for your top three goals. What are they? The more specific, the greater assistance you will receive.
5. Follow Through
Remember to keep your promises. I can count the people who do that on the fingers of one hand. That is great news for you. The easiest way to organize your follow through is by taking notes on the back of the business cards you collect from the individuals you meet. I make notes after the conversation so I can make eye contact and stay present during it. If I have wait time before catching for a train or a flight, I enter all contact in my electronic organizer and begin to sketch out my action items.
Regardless of your method, staying in touch is much easier right after you have opened a communication channel with someone than it is months later.