11 Ways to Make the Most Out of a Conference
Events are great places to generate highly qualified leads and expose your organization to key people in your industry, yet they are one of the biggest line items in marketing budgets. To make the most of your investment, you need to be thoughtful and strategic, so you don’t walk away feeling like they were a waste of your time and money.
Here are some tips from Kristina Sabirova, Managing Partner of BGS Group.
Before the Event
1. Set Participation Goals
Most companies attend events without specific business objectives. If you don’t know where you’re going or why, no road will take you there. No organizer can help attendee who is unable to set goals.
Think through why you're attending. Are you looking for sales leads, launching a new product, developing customer loyalty, or building new relationships with suppliers and other stakeholders? Are there new developments, trends, or industry challenges that you must address? When you know your goal, it's much easier to focus your attention on the right things.
BONUS TIP! Plan in advance. If you’re going to invest time and money into event participation, identify your key goals 3-6 months in advance.
2. Do Your Homework
Contact the event organizer to ask for the list of confirmed participants, speakers, and sponsors. Are any of them your potential clients or partners? Make a list of speakers and attendees you’d like to connect with.
Research the people you want to meet so you have a basis for conversations with prospects. Arming yourself with information maximizes the chance that those conversations will be productive and memorable.
BONUS TIP! Reach Out In Advance. If someone is of particular interest to you, connect this person before the event to start building the relationship upfront. If there’s someone you already know, —clients, vendors, friends-of-friends— reach out a few weeks before the conference to set up a time to meet for coffee or a meal.
3. Plan Travel Accordingly
Many attendees fly the day of the conference and fly out the day the event ended, but it’s the worst way to travel to a business event. First, you’ll be jet-lagged and exhausted, that won't be productive. Second, there will be dozens of networking parties happening pre- and post-conference, that create great opportunities to meet new people or invite potential partners for complimentary dinner.
If your schedule permits, fly in a day earlier and leave a day later to give yourself a chance to recover and to arrange one-to-one dinner with potential clients.
BONUS TIP! Arrive early. This puts you in a position to review the final attendee list, scope out the venue, and gives you time to speak with the organizer before the event begins.
4. Connect with the Event Organizers
The benefits of building connections with the event organizers are undeniable. They’re the ones driving the ship, and they know the most important people and can introduce you to key representatives.
If you want to set yourself apart from the crowd and gain visibility, the organizer will help you make a core decision: in what way participate - being a speaker, session sponsor or exhibitor? Check out if there are these options available, or email the event organizer directly to ask. Use pre-event marketing tools, that organizer usually provides, to announce your new product or let your target audience know that you'll attend the conference.
BONUS TIP! Personal manager. Use special benefits the organizers can provide you with. At BGS group we found it efficient to provide each participant with their own personal manager. Depending on your goals and participation package, personal manager will introduce you to potential clients or partners, guide you through the conference or set up meetings for you. In order to make the time spent at the event more productive, you need to communicate with your personal manager about what your goals are and who you are interested in.
5. Make the Move from Print to Digital Catalogs
If you pride yourself on innovation and forward-thinking, printed materials send the opposite message. Printed materials scream “old-fashioned” and have been branded as ineffective. If you’re still spending money on printing materials, consider that print catalogs are hard to change, they are hard to distribute and they are hard to share with decision-makers. And let’s be honest, a lot of printed materials end up in the trash. No one would take your heavy catalog and carry with them through the event, it’s headed straight for the trashcan after meeting ends. Sad, but true.
Consider designing unique USB flash drives preloaded with your latest catalogs or create business cards with QR code that directs to your website. With digital marketing materials, people can click or tap photos of products and order them instantly, you can also use analytics programs to find out which sections garner the most views. You can set up different versions of your digital catalog to appeal to different groups.
At the Event
6. Don't make your presentation a sales pitch
If your company is attending as a speaker, the worst speech you can give is one that people interpret as a sales pitch. The purpose of most keynotes is not to provide an opportunity to pitch your product, the purpose is to entertain and inform the audience. Your speech needs to encourage dialogue and discussion on major issues of the industry.
Make the content more interesting and less self-serving. Focus more on your company journey and how your company struggled and succeeded. Share your best practices as well as your worst practices, include in your case studies specifics numbers and examples. This draws in people who are interested in the problems you are solving.
BONUS TIP! Tell stories. The best way to relax when giving a speech is to tell stories. You’re not “making a speech” anymore. You’re making conversation. Let your product or service be the subtle if not silent solution behind the real story. Good speakers are good storytellers, great speakers tell stories that support their message. Learn more tips to achieve speaker goals at B2B congress.
7. Go for Quality over Quantity
Don't spread yourself too thin. You don’t want to get stuck talking to just one person during the entire event, but you also shouldn’t put pressure on yourself to connect with all 100+ people who may be attending. Business networking is about cultivating relationships - you're not going to be able to do that if you're trying to be an active participant with hundreds of one-on-one meetings. You need to stay focused and strategic with your time and energy, set an achievable goal.
8. Draw People in With Creative Booth
Boring booths don’t attract visitors. Design your booth to stand out, focus on things that make you most unique - some new tools or new cutting-edge hardware. One of the easiest ways to get people to your booth is to provide engagement. Order audio and video equipment that will make your booth more interactive.
9. Take the Lead
You must do a lot more than simply show up and wait for new business opportunities to come to you. It’s hard to expect to make many productive meetings by just sitting at your booth and waiting for someone to come to you, it may never happen. Take the lead. Don’t wait for someone to come up. Find potential clients and invite them to visit your booth.
10. Use Special Events to Connect
Usually, there are numerous dinners and coffee breaks you will get access to outside the actual talks. Take full advantage of that and give yourself a chance to strike up conversations with the other attendees around you. Networking anytime, anywhere - whether you're on a lunch break, attending a cocktail party, or taking a break at the coffee bar.
BONUS TIP! Stay at the hotel associated with the event. Usually, most of the attendees stay there. And after the day's events, they'll all be meeting in the lounge for a cocktail. Make the most out of this opportunity and meet new people.
After the Event
11. 48 Hours Follow-up
The days immediately after the event are critical for following up on leads. After the event is over it’s imperative that you follow up with your new contacts within 48 hours before they will completely forget about meeting you. Connect with them through email and social media and send a note to say it was great meeting them and coordinate a post-meetup if that was discussed.
BONUS TIP! Give yourself a head start by following up at the event itself. Schedule a call on the spot, send a quick email or add the person as a contact on LinkedIn.
But most important, be enthusiastic. You must show high energy and high motivation at all times. Don’t be closed off. People will turn to you only if you demonstrate positive attributes. Being friendly and open is one of the best set of professional tools.