Here are some friendly points and reminders about how to prepare and make the most out of your conference experience. At least these are things that I tend to have to remind myself to do before, during and after a great conference. We’re also giving away a set of 50 free business cards printed for you from Moo.com to 8 randomly picked people who leave us comments. If you’re going to be at ConvergeSE on April 27 & 28th these could come in pretty handy indeed.
Make your plans
You don't have a ton of time at a conference to let things evolve organically. You may have just 2 days and 2 evenings (in some cases just a single day) to meet who you want to meet. Take some time before you get there to read over the schedule and do some online stalking to see if you can figure out others who will be there so you can make a point to say hello while you're both in the same room. If you're a registrant to Converge this year, we've helped you out by setting up an attendee directory.
Not just on the sessions, but also on who you meet and what your first impression was. You'll get back to your desk the following week and will want to recall some of those conversations, at least the big points anyway, keeping some quick and simple notes while you're at the event will help you later.
Make sure you have some, One way or another I always forget my business cards when I leave for a conference. Oftentimes i'll actually bring a whole stack of them but leave them in the car or in the hotel room, can't figure out why i'm so forgetful, but this is just your friendly reminder to NOT DO THAT.
While you don't have a whole lot of time at a conference, and it really does go by so quickly (as time does when having fun) you can start up some really great friendships. There are conferences that I go to each year where it's the only place I get to hang out with the people I met there and we've all become really great friends. Thanks to things like Twitter and Facebook we can keep in touch all year long until we meet up again. Business relationships are just like friendships, so be prepared to meet people.
Along these lines Jonathan Hoyt has a really interesting post over at the Ordered List blog about his trip to SXSW in 2011:
“Being new to the industry and meeting all of you I felt a bit insecure so I tried to “sell” a bigger more awesome me. My biggest mistake was trying to impress when you sincerely asked me what I did.”
Eat where the group is
One thing you'll be tempted to do if you're going with a group of people you already know, like people you work with day in and day out, is you'll want to hang pretty close together. This is your opportunity to meet new people in your industry so do that instead. Wander around and introduce yourself.
Like during lunch, you may be tempted to leave to grab lunch at a restaurant nearby but don't. Get in line with everyone else, it forces people to stand next to each other and you'll find it easier to introduce yourself. Try to sit with someone you haven't met before either, it can be a crap shoot (no one likes to sit next to a weirdo) but you just might sit next to a future employer or customer.
Check the hotel bar or ask around beforehand if there's someplace people are meeting up the night before the event. Buying someone a beer is probably the cheapest way to make friends.
Make sure you do some research on the area where the conference is being held. Just so you know where local bars or hang outs might be. Then while at the event use things like Gowalla and Foursqare to track where people are and what's happening. Twitter is always a really great thing to keep tabs on – but you already know that one.
The term 'elevator pitch' is used in the ad agency world to describe the story about your product or business that you can tell someone in an elevator ride from one floor to another in an office building. What can you explain to someone about yourself in 30 seconds or so? Write it out and practice it, I'm promising you, if you've never done this before it's one of the single most important things you can do for yourself.
I can't remember where I read this but someone said to update your blog with a really recent photo of yourself. I'd take that one step further and say to do that and update your online profiles as well. People are going to look you up after they meet you, make sure your photos are all current. Update your written profiles too like your Twitter bio and Linkedin history.
The follow up
One time after a conference, someone I met sent me a follow up note in the mail, yes snail mail, and I thought it was one of the coolest things anyone had ever done. My vision of that person was immediately one of class and thoroughness. We've since gone on to become pretty good friends and meet up when we're in the same town now and have helped each other out with business opportunities over the years. I would have never become friends if he'd never followed up in such a way.
Plan to follow up beforehand, take good info on how you can reach people and after a week or so once you've been home and back to work a few days, send that follow up. You never know where it'll lead you.
We’re giving away a set of 50 free business cards printed for you from Moo.com to 8 randomly picked people who leave us comments.
Do you have any further tips to share when at a conference? Leave us a comment about it below so you’re entered to win.