How to Get the Most out of Conferences

How to get the most out of conferencesNot long ago, someone asked me what I do to get the most out of a conference. That question is again on my mind since I am here at the Podcast Movement conference, and I want to share with you the eight things I do to make sure I get the most out of a conference;

  1. Have a plan before you get there. Usually, for me, that plan involves meeting people. If I know some of the people who are going to be there, I determine ahead of time who I want to meet. So let’s say I select three people I want to meet I will either go up to introduce myself, or I will seek an introduction from a mutual acquaintance. Here at Podcast Movement my plan is to get invitations to be a guest on other podcasts. My goal is to get ten invitations. Whether or not I get invitations to be on ten different podcasts, having the goal set gets me talking to more people and working with a plan rather than passing the time.
  2. Be willing to abandon the content of the conference to make connections. Remember what I said about hallway time and hanging out with people like Harold Arnold? That is what makes some of these conferences so great. If you come to a conference just to attend sessions you may miss out on good connections in the hallway. If you meet someone new you want to talk to, forget about the content and just make the connection.
  3. Only go to conferences that can help you. Be selective about what conferences you attend. I know some conference junkies. Yes, you meet great people, but unless you are attending to meet some specific people or learn about something specific, then it is not worth going to them. For example, if you work in the finance sector, it is in your best interest to go to conferences where you can attend financial seminars lead by professionals from the finance sector where you can learn about the latest financial marketing techniques. I have been to only two conferences this year that I was not speaking at. First was Dan Miller’s Coaching with Excellence. That one makes sense because I want to continue to improve as a business coach and marketing consultant. I also wanted to meet Dan Miller, which I did. The second conference is Podcast Movement. It is easy to understand that this conference makes sense for me.
  4. Dress better than most other people who are there. You can dress however you want. But if you want to be remembered, dress nicely. At many conferences, people will be wearing t-shirts and jeans. Last year at Podcast Movement I even saw people in t-shirt and shorts. That is fine, but you know who stands out, the people dressed nicely. When someone is dressed nice, you are drawn to them. And you remember them. Every time I have seen Ray Edwards at a conference, he is wearing a sports coat. Or a blazer. I don’t know if there is a difference between the two, but Ray is always wearing one. I usually am wearing dress pants and a nice colorful business looking shirt. If you run into me in the hall at Podcast Movement this year you may say “what a minute, I saw you in jeans and a button up shirt. That is true. I have been on the road for nearly a month now and am living out of a single suitcase. I could only pack so much. I only brought one nice shirt. There are going to be exceptions, of course, but if I am traveling just for a conference, you will probably see me dressed nicely. And that should be a goal for you as well. Try to dress better than most of the people who attend the conference. There is a better chance for a good first impression and a better chance people are going to remember you.
  5. 5. If you took notes, do something with them. Depending on the conference I am attending, I may or may not take notes. At Podcast Movement, I probably won’t take notes. At Coaching with Excellence, I took plenty of notes. If I do take notes, I do something about it. When I get back home, I go over the notes to see if there is anything important. If there are items I should take action on, I either add them to my DayTimer or to Wunderlist. Those are the two places I put items that require something is done. If I took notes and they don’t go into DayTimer or Wunderlist, I don’t keep them. Sometimes I will scan them to save in Evernote, but usually not. If there was a good quote, I might save that somewhere for reference later. But the point is, don’t take notes and then just let them sit in a drawer of the file. As soon as you get home from the conference, go over your notes and immediately pull out what is important. If it is not something to cause action, either save it somewhere for reference or get rid of it.
  6. Send follow up email or physical cards to people. You are going to meet some great people at conferences. You will get plenty of business cards at conferences. Follow-up with the people you meet. Send an email just to say hello. When you made a great connection with someone, send a handwritten notecard. You never know where connections may lead. But if you let them fade away they will not lead anywhere.
  7. Take action on at least one thing from the conference. You spent time and money to be at a conference, and perhaps you had to be away from your family. Make it worthwhile. Find at least one thing from the conference and take action. I don’t mean write down inspirational quotes from the speakers. I don’t mean put items in Wunderlist you will never do. I am talking about progress, not action. Find one thing from the conference you can follow up and implement that will make a difference. If you don’t have one thing you can take action on, then the conference was a waste of your time. You wasted money to get there. You wasted money on the hotel. And you wasted your time. You should only attend conferences that can help you and if you do not have one item of action from a conference it did not help you.
  8. Try to build a good connection with at least one person you meet at a conference. People I met for the first time at a conference include Kary Oberbrunner, Kirk Bowman, David Hancock, Ann Vertel, Steve Kurti, Lori Allen and so much more. I could make a big list, but you would get tired of hearing me say names. The point is, I have made great connections at conferences. It has been deliberate. I know every conference I go to I want to make a strong connection with at least one person. I will pass up meeting ten people to stand and have a long conversation with one person. There are so many people, and you can not meet all of them. Make time count be finding at least one person and make a strong connection with them. Have meals with people. You can often have better conversations sitting down for a meal with someone than you can talking in the hallway of the conference. No matter how you do it, make sure you build at least one good connection.

To get a take on how to get the most out of attending trade shows, check out this episode of the Catalyst Sale podcast with Mike Conner and Mike Simmons.

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Jody Maberry