Sure you can wander around vast exhibition halls like McCormick Place in Chicago, looking like a deer in headlights. Smart attendees have a solid conference strategy in place to get their return-on-investment.
Many professional organizations compete with each other for your, or your company’s, registration dollars. Not all conferences offer equal value. Smart conference attendees evaluate the pros and cons of each conference opportunity before pitching their company for budgetary dollars.
To get the best return on investment, your conference strategy should add to your core competencies, continuing education, career goals and overall marketplace value. You may find that the annual professional association general conference isn’t as valuable as attending smaller conferences in various sub-specialties.
As a corporate newbie, some of the first conferences I attended were the big, national meeting, wild-and-crazy jamborees. The more experience I gained, the more I demanded substance and knowledge out of my investment. Early on I started targeting the niche-specific meetings, which have paid off throughout the years.
If you don’t know where to start with your conference strategy, here are my recommendations on how to get things rolling.
Smart conference and trade show attendees identify – in advance – which targeted and researched companies or individuals are of interest to their business and/or career. They contact these folks in advance and make arrangements for a brief introduction, without hogging that individual’s schedule. Their conference strategy is for the relationship to be pursued and developed post-conference.
Waiting until the conference or trade show to make these types of strategic arrangements will fall short of your goal. These are busy folks. You’ve probably walked by booths and observed individuals consummating business on the trade show floor. That meeting started 18 months prior to this year’s trade show or conference – not the day of that trade show.
Have a conference strategy that includes taking advantage of ad hoc networking opportunities. You never know who you will meet during breakfast or lunch when there are empty seats at tables. You can end up sitting next to a CEO who is speaking at the event and strike up a conversation. They may become your next boss. Stay in touch post meeting with relevant communication. Don’t leave your networking up to end-of-day cocktails.
Starting a conversation is often daunting to many conference attendees. Have a conversation-starting question in your back pocket. Ask people about why they are attending that particular conference and what attributes make it valuable to them. You can evaluate your own perceptions against theirs, post-conference, as you stay in touch with each other.
Do I really need to say this to you? You are a brand ambassador for your company, for starters. A solid conference strategy does not involve any behavioral free-for-alls – in spite of what you may observe to the contrary. What goes on at the meeting doesn’t stay at the meeting. Ever. Even if that meeting is in Las Vegas.
Which meetings are you planning on attending this year? What’s your reason for attending? What’s your strategy?
Babette N. Ten Haken, President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC, is a professional development coach and management consultant. She conducts Workshops and builds Playbooks for startups and small to mid-size companies who want to grow, expand and sustain their business, but are wrestling with unpredictable revenue streams. Her Playbook on leadership, business development and collaboration strategies, including tools, Do YOU Mean Business? is available on Amazon.com.