Getting the Most Out of Conventions and Conferences

As vaccinations have become readily available and the Covid pandemic has begun to get under control. Conventions, conferences and trade shows are slowly coming back. Whether you’ll be attending one of these events in person or virtually, we’ve got some tips for making the most of your experience.

Choose well.

Do your research on upcoming conventions and trade shows in your industry. For each one, identify whether there will be enough topics of value to you and whether the presenters are ones you’d like to hear and meet. Remember, more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean more valuable. Smaller, less expensive conventions may actually yield more connections and one-on-one interaction, which is one of the primary benefits of attending these sorts of events.

Plan ahead.

You can often get a better deal if you reserve tickets early, and you want to make sure you don’t find yourself in the position of being unable to find a room if there are multiple large events going on in that city at the same time. Know how you plan to get to and from the airport, back to your hotel, and so on. Make sure you have plenty of business cards and any other marketing materials you might want to give someone who is interested in learning more about you and your business. Bring a portable phone charger with you in case you need it during the day.

Make connections early.

The smartest convention and trade show attendees know that you can maximize your experience by getting some online chat going with speakers and fellow attendees before you arrive at the event. If your conference has a conversational tool like Slack or a Facebook group, be sure to participate. Target a few people that you’d like to meet and send them a message to let them know that you are looking forward to their talk and hope to have a few moments to chat with them. Find them on LinkedIn and request a connection there as well.

Carry or wear a conversation starter.

Want a guaranteed entrée into conversations with total strangers? Wear something just slightly attention-getting that will allow you to talk about what you do. Let’s say you’re attending an event for the hospitality industry and you are there to promote your pre-made cocktail mixers to restaurants and caterers. You could wear a large button that reads, “Perfect cocktails every time, no mixology skills needed. Ask me how.” Sound corny? Maybe, but it works. You’ll create openings to talk up your product all weekend long.

Stay organized.

You will likely meet a LOT of people at a convention. Create a system for how you plan to keep track of all of them. Be consistent about inputting or writing down all relevant info about the person you just met immediately after you are done speaking with them, while it is still fresh in your mind. It may be helpful to create a spreadsheet with name, company, contact info, notes about what you discussed, and any follow-up that you want to do. Set calendar reminders for yourself of who you want to reach out to again after the conference is over.

Keep another list on topics and technologies that you learned about that you want to research further. Conferences can throw an overwhelming amount of information at you in a very condensed period of time. Most attendees leave excited about all the new information, but then rarely follow through on doing anything with most of it. Set a day shortly after the conference is over that you will take some time to review what you have learned and make plans for how to implement this new information into your business.

Don’t feel like every moment has to be scheduled.

Many of the best moments at large events are the chance encounters. Don’t feel like you have to attend every session, especially if they are not relevant to you and your work. Take a few sessions off to wander the trade booths and chat with sponsors, other attendees or speakers on their breaks. You can get plenty of valuable information this way and make interesting connections.

Use your social media.

Use the advantage of your social media profiles to post about the event and specific presentations and speakers. Be sure to use the event-specific hashtags and tag the event page and speakers whenever possible. Your tweets and posts may be shared and can become great publicity for your company and brand. They can also lead to further connections with influential attendees.

Have a follow-up plan.

Once you’ve returned home, set aside a time that’s no more than a week after the conference to follow-up with anyone that you wanted to reconnect with. Or if you met someone who asked you to get in touch in a month after they return from vacation or finish a big project, set a reminder in your calendar so that you remember to follow through at the appropriate time. Expect that many people you contact won’t reply immediately and don’t be afraid to be persistent and contact them several times to show that you were serious about wanting to develop a professional relationship.

With these strategies in hand, you will be on track to have a productive and profitable conference.