Conferences. You register. You get the schedule. You choose your sessions, make necessary arrangements and off you go. The season is here and I’ve already flagged several local conferences I want to attend in the next few months (links below). Committing to attending a conference can become a costly investment. To ensure you are getting the most from your conference experience, apply some strategy to choosing which ones you attend. Once you’ve looked at your time commitment and have determined the theme of the conference and topics are going to add benefit to you and your business, start doing your homework. Here are some pointers for maximizing your conference return on investment (ROI).
Scope out the bios of speakers, keynotes and workshop leaders. Ask yourself key questions, ie. What do I want to know? Who can I learn from? What will help move my business forward? Does the speaker have a website, book, podcast or blog/vlog you can refer to? This will help you frame interactions at the conference for follow-up and further connection. I attended a conference in Halifax several years ago where I met Eric Karljaluoto, author of the book Speak Human. I was able to ask him some questions related to my own work and later, I messaged him about the personal impact of his book and blog. Take the initiative to connect with speakers. You never know where it will lead and how it could affect your work.
Start the conversation early. Tweet, post online and use the conference hashtag to look at any existing conversations about the conference, or to start a new one. I like to plan ahead for connecting at a conference or even to make pre-conference connections with other entrepreneurs. This is a great way to get excited about the event and create some hype. It’s also my strategy for continuing momentum after the conference. It can be overwhelming on the day of a conference to try and have valuable conversations (outside of generic small talk),but if I pre-arrange to meet Bob at the snack table during the morning break to discuss thoughts on the topic of “online marketing for baby boomers”, who knows what kind of magic can happen. I love this simple list from The Muse on How to Make Friends and Connections at Your Next Conference.
Maybe you want to be a silent observer. Many people use conferences as a way to gather information and make adjustments to their own work and messaging. Or maybe you want to be in the thick of the excitement. There may be an opportunity to align your expertise with the session themes or tracks. Is there potential to speak on a topic or sit on a panel? By the time you register to attend, it is probably too late to ask this question but doing some research up front on conferences coming to your area and/or opportunities to collaborate might be just what you need to invigorate your client base. I’ve seen two conferences spring up from great collaborations – Social Media Day Halifax and Blog Jam Atlantic, both have organizing committees made up of professionals who work independently but also in the same circles and who collectively identified knowledge gap areas and created their own conferences to fill those voids. Now that’s initiative!
Work and Play
Aside from the regularly scheduled programming, are there also opportunities at the conference to socialize? Many conferences build extra activities for further attendee engagement, from dances and live music to morning yoga and excursions. As a self-proclaimed introvert, I have to REALLY push myself to do more than the basics, but these activities can be one of the best ways to make long-term connections. This type of networking is often low-stress, fun and allows for real relationships to form. Interacting with people in more relaxed settings allows people to be their more authentic selves. Heed this warning: be careful with alcohol. Some events have relaxed evening drinking activities. I’ll never forget the conference I attended in Brussels twelve years ago with an open bar. I got a bit carried away and had a hard time finishing the conference. The plane ride home wasn’t much fun either. Moderation and common-sense for the win folks!
Award for Best Conference Session goes to…..
Good luck attending your next conference. Please share your own conference tips in the comments! Here is a list of local conferences I’m hoping to check out this Fall:
October 27/28 – BlogJam Atlantic
November 2/3 – The ACM Canadian Celebration of Women in Computing
November 5 – Innovate Atlantic
November 13 – Amplify Atlantic
November 30 – Social East