231 Attending Conferences: How to Maximize Your Experience

By Leslie Samuel | Podcasts

Sep 23

Are you getting as much as possible from the conferences you attend?

Do you plan well enough in advance to make each conference experience a great experience?

Do you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with a million things to do while having no idea where to start?

Fear not. By the end of this post (article and podcast episode), you will be a conference-attending NINJA!

Listen to This Episode

Why You Should Start Attending Conferences

231_Conferences_Pinterest1

Attending Conferences

I remember my first conference. At the time, it was called Blog World, and I was a panelist on a session on how to use a podcast to land your dream job.

That’s when I first got hooked. I’ve attended a bunch of conferences since then.

In fact, I’m writing this on the day after returning from Digital Colab and FinCon.

Here are some reasons why I think you should attend conferences:

  • To get connected. Blogging can be a very isolating activity. Think about it. I’m a full-time blogger who spends most of my days in my home office on my laptop. Getting out there and connecting with other people who get excited about the same kinds of things you get excited about can be game-changing. Also, those relationships can open up many new opportunities for you and your business.
  • To be inspired. There’s something about seeing the success of others that inspires you to do what you need to do to take your business to the next level.
  • To be equipped. Regardless of where you are in your business, there’s ALWAYS something new to learn. By choosing your conferences (and sessions) wisely, you are putting yourself in a position to learn exactly what you need to learn from the experts who have answers to your questions.

How to Choose the Right Conferences

FinCon

FinCon – Making Personal Finance Personal

When it comes to choosing conferences, you always want to make those decisions based on your response to one simple question:

What are your goals for your blog and your business?

Once you’ve identified your goals, you want to choose the types of conferences that can help you accomplish your goals.

Here are two ways to find great conferences:

  • Do a Google Search. I’m interested in increasing conversion rates across my business (i.e. number of email signups and sales). I just went to Google and searched for “conversion conference.” To my surprise, the first thing that came up was the Conversion Conference. I've never heard of this conference before, but I’m going to be checking it out.
  • Find out from trusted sources. Are there people in your niche that you respect? Ask them which conferences they recommend.

How to Prepare for a Conference

When it comes to making the most out of your conference experience, what happens before the conference is very important.

This is also where most conference attendees (myself included) miss the boat.

Taking the right steps beforehand will set you up for success during and after the conference. Here are some things that you should be doing to prepare:

Plan your sessions

finconapp

Topi app used for #FinCon15

There are usually multiple sessions happening at once. If one of your goals is to learn things to help you advance in your business (and it should be), then you want to make sure to take the time to plan these sessions in advance.

There are many conferences that only allow a certain amount of attendees in certain rooms. In these cases, you want to make sure to sign up for the sessions that are most important to you.

Plan your networking

Look at the list of attendees, speakers and exhibitors. Are there certain key individuals you want to network with for a specific purpose?

Make a list of those people so that you can make sure to take advantage of each of those networking opportunities.

Pro tip: Many conference will have mobile apps that you can use for planning out your experience. If your conference has an app, use it.

Plan your travel and accommodations

AirBNB1

My AirBNB

I know what you’re thinking – That’s SOOOO obvious. Well, as obvious as it is, I suck at this and have the tendency to leave things until the last minute.

In fact, I didn’t end up booking a place to stay until a few days before the event. Fortunately, AirBNB came through for me, and I ended up with a pretty sleek two-story townhouse, which was much nicer (and cheaper) than the cost of a hotel room.

Don’t be that guy. Don’t be like me. Plan your travel and accommodations.

Make initial contact

It’s always a good idea to reach out to people you want to connect with on Social Media or via email before the event.

Doing this beforehand will make it easier to connect in person. Also, touching base with them the day before the event is a great way to keep you fresh in their minds for when you meet in person.

Practice your elevator pitch

When you meet people at conferences, it’s inevitable that you will be asked the age-old question: “So, what do you do?”

When that happens, you want to have a short, but effective “elevator pitch” to explain what it is you do.

Here’s the short version of my elevator pitch:

I help self-driven people take something they are passionate about, start a blog about that topic, get people to visit their blog and turn it into a business that pays them.

If we get a little deeper, I will give them my story of how I did that with my biology blog and how I help others do the same.

Pro Tip: Focus your elevator pitch on the people you help, not how awesome you are.

Get your business cards

Business cards are an easy way for you to give people your contact information. I dislike them because I believe that we should just all connect on Social Media, it’s not always convenient to do so on the spot.

Having a set of business cards to give out makes it easier for people to contact you if they choose to do so. A great place to get unique and high-quality business cards is Moo Cards (you get 10% off for using my referral link).

Pro tip: I almost always forget my business cards at the last minute. If you’re like me, keep a set of business cards in your suitcase at all times.

Making the Most of the Conference

You’ve chosen your conference and done your prep work. You arrive at the event, and it’s game time. Here are some tips to help you make the most out of your conference experience.

Register immediately

When you attend a conference, you will usually have to go to a registration station to pick up your name badge and some other miscellaneous items (like a swag bag filled with goodies).

It’s a good idea to get all of that done as early as possible. If you’re early enough, you can avoid long lines. Every so often, there are limited resources, and you want to have the option to be able to take advantage of those resources.

For example, there were special sessions we could sign up for at Digital Colab, but they were limited to a certain number of attendees. If you waited to late, you would most likely miss out on your preferred sessions.

Get the lay of the land

Most of the conferences I attend are in held in hotels, and a lot of time can be spent trying to find where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there.

I highly recommend taking some time at the very beginning to figure out where the key locations are. This will help you be more efficient and, as a bonus, you get to help others find where they’re going, which can help for networking 🙂

Seek out the people you want to connect with

If you did your pre-conference work well, you have a list of people you wanted to connect with and also took the time to reach out to them the day before arrival.

When you see those individuals, go up to them, introduce yourself and connect with them. I would remind them that you reached out to them via email and let the conversation go from there.

Don’t be THAT guy/gal

Don't be this guy

Have you ever been at a conference and had someone come up to you and act like a used car salesman?

They obviously believe that they have the best product/service in the world and that your life won’t be complete without buying from them.

That guy/gal is NOT the person you want to be. Your goal here is not to pitch as many people as possible. Your goal is to connect with people.

One of the best ways to do that is to connect with them on topics that go beyond business. What do they do for fun? Do they have kids? Are they also into fantasy football?

The more points you can connect with them on, the easier it will be to establish a relationship.

The stronger the relationship, the more likely you will be to do business in the future.

Walk up to strangers and bite the bullet

Bite the Bullet. Img Credit: Harlan Landes

Bite the Bullet. Img Credit: Harlan Landes

If you’re anything like me, it can be a bit nerve-wracking to start a conversation with a stranger. You never know which direction it’ll go.

I get nervous when doing that. However, of the many times I’ve done it, I can only remember one time where it didn’t end up being a pleasant experience.

What I’ve realized is that the hardest part is to start. So, I’m training myself to walk up to strangers without thinking and just see where the conversation goes. When I do that, it usually turns out very well. The words come. Just bite the bullet.

Connect with people on Social Media immediately

It’s 2015, and I hate business cards. Yes, I know that one of my tips was to get business cards, but I honestly think they are a thing of the past. Yes, use them, but it’s even better to connect with them on social media immediately.

Follow them on Twitter and add them to a Twitter list for the event. That way you can keep track of what all of your new conference friends are doing.

Also, connect with them on whatever social network they use actively.

Pro Tip: Use an app like Evernote to scan and save business cards and then ditch the cards.

Take notes during sessions

Since you’ve chosen your conference and sessions wisely, you will probably walk away with tons of information.

Unfortunately, unless you have a phenomenal memory, it’s difficult just to listen and remember everything you heard.

This is why I highly recommend taking notes of the key points you want to remember. I don’t take exhaustive notes, but I focus on the main action items I want to implement.

Be on the lookout for that golden nugget

It’s very easy to get overwhelmed with all of the information that will come your way at the conference. Fortunately, you don’t have to take action on everything. It’s impossible to do that.

Instead, what I would recommend for you to do is to be on the lookout for that ONE golden nugget – something that you can do that could have a significant impact on your business.

Once you find that thing, get as much information as possible about it so that you can create an action plan to help you grow your business.

Put down your technology

Put down your technology (PLEASE)!

Put down your technology (PLEASE)!

I know, I know – it’s 2015, and we have to tweet, share, like, pin, scope, blab and Instagram EVERYTHING.

Actually, no we don’t. Every moment isn’t a tweetable, and when you constantly focus are always focused on your technology, you are missing out on the here and now.

Instead of trying to capture every moment for the world to see, live in the moment with the people you are with.

Have fun. Seriously, have a TON of FUN!

Have Fun! Img Credit: Harlan Landes

Have Fun! Img Credit: Harlan Landes

People remember people they had fun with. Yes, I know it’s a conference, but that doesn’t mean you have to be boring.

Is there a party? Dance.

Don’t like to dance? Go out to dinner and laugh.

Don’t like food? Hang out in the lobby and laugh.

Don’t like to laugh? Then I don’t know what to tell ya 😉

After The Conference

Ah man, the conference is over, and you have to return to real life. Your head is exploding, and you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed. Let's fix that. Here are my post-conference tips:

CALM DOWN

I know you’re excited. The conference was a great experience, and you got to connect with so many interesting people. But before you go all out trying to accomplish World Domination in one week, CALM DOWN. Yep, that’s tip #1.

Create one big hairy audacious goal based on golden nugget

When you leave the conference, one of the first things you want to do is create one big hairy audacious goal.

You should base this on the golden nugget you extracted from the conference. Yes, there are other things you learned, but I want you to focus like never before so that you can accomplish more than you ever did before.

Break that goal down into specific tasks

Every goal is accomplished by taking specific action steps. Having a goal is great, but unless you break it down into specific actionable tasks, you will never reach your goal.

The notes you took during the sessions where you learned your golden nugget should inform the tasks you choose.

Follow up with your contacts

Did you connect with anyone during the conference? My hope is that your answer is yes.

Follow up with those individuals via email, social media, or even phone. It’s a good idea to touch base with them immediately after leaving the conference while it’s fresh in your mind and then set a reminder to connect with them at a later date as well.

Let’s Bring This Home

If you implement the tips mentioned in this post, you will be on your way to becoming a conference ninja.

Attending conferences can change the game for you.

Your Turn

Have you been taking advantages of conferences? Are there any tips that I missed? Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments below.

Video of Podcast

Infographic

Attending Conferences Infographic

Attending Conferences: How to Maximize Your Experience [Infographic]

Transcript

Some people just love being able to read along with interviews, or they might just prefer to skip the audio completely and just read through the transcript. Hey, if that’s what floats your boat, it is all good. Here’s the transcript just for you. 🙂

Click here to download transcript.

  • Kate says:

    Great podcast. My favorite part is putting down the phone! Being in the moment and really listening to people. I went last week to a conference and set my mind on just hearing people’s story and asking questions. I find that when we listen to their stories we learn more about them and maybe learn something we can apply to our business.

    I also think at conferences a big problem, especially if it’s been in existence for while, is people staying in their comfortable groups. This last weekend during the social hour time I noticed that it was hard for me to insert myself into conversations because people already had ‘their people’. It does take boldness to step out and that can be scary but I only found 1-2 people who were willing to break out of their comfort zone and talk with me. And I’ve got awesome information. 😉

    Great tips as always.

    • Yep, being in the moment is so important (at least for me).

      I agree with you about people staying in their comfortable groups. That can be a challenge and it takes extra effort to connect with people when they’ve already decided to connect with. It does take boldness, but it can be so worth it 🙂

  • Mary Lahti says:

    Leslie, great as usual. Some day I hope to meet you at one of these events. I say I probably have about 80% of your tips down and did learn some additional helpful bits. And cool, I love to dance! 🙂

    Thanks for sharing.

    Mary

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