Even in the digital age of social networking, Tweeting and webinars there’s still an important place in the world for conferences and other events that allow people to meet face-to-face. It doesn’t matter if you’re in pre-cast concrete or a heart surgeon somewhere there’s a conference that’s made just for you. There are lots of benefits to going to a conference where you can meet and hang out with other people in your industry (or with similar interests), but they’re also a big commitment.
They can a lot of fun, but the time it takes to go to a multi-day conference and the money it costs you or your business means that you need to maximize your experience as much as you can — all without over-thinking it and trying too hard. I’m far from an expert, but after getting a handful of conferences under my belt and talking to other people who go to them a lot, I’ve come up with 3 rules to make sure that you get what you want from your next conference. The 3 rules are simple — Prepare, Relax and Rock Out and here’s what they mean.
Of the 3 rules, this is the most important and ironically enough the least followed. This is because it’s the one thing that’s time sensitive and requires some thought long before arriving at your conference of choice.
Preparing for the conference can mean different things depending on who you are and what conference you’re going to, but more times than not it includes setting up meetings and making sure that no matter what you have the chance to connect up with who you need to.
The first thing you need to figure out before you set up any meetings is what conferences you’re going to so that you can start reaching out to the right people. The earlier you can lock yourself into the conference, the better, so don’t wait around to buy your pass if you already know you need to be there. Another benefit of buying your pass earlier is that it’s usually cheaper and saving some cash never hurts.
A rule of thumb that I use is that you should have all of your meetings set up for your conference at least two weeks in advance. It won’t always happen this way, but if you can start reaching out to who you want to connect with 3-4 weeks beforehand it will greatly increase the chances of you getting the meetings you need. It’s going to take some time, but you need to make the time for it. Respect the process and make sure that you stay on top of everything so that you maximize your time while you’re there.
Once you start booking the meetings make sure to send a meeting request to all of the people involved so that you’re all on the same page. If someone doesn’t accept then it’s your job to send them a reminder so that they have it on their calendar.
The amount of meetings you need to set depends on how much time you have and how much of the conference you actually plan on going to. If you’re there more to learn than to network then leave yourself some time for going to panels, keynotes and workshops. If you’re there just to network then make that the priority and pack in the meetings as much as you can. Just be careful with the early mornings – odds are you’re going to be out late (see rule #3).
This rule is easy in theory, but hard in practice. It’s easy to think of conferences as an unending source of leads that you need to maximize as much as possible. Trying to meet/pitch as many people as you can sounds like an awesome idea, but it’s not something that you want to do from a personal networking perspective. If your goal is to maximize your exposure at the conference you either need to come up with an amazing PR stunt (be careful with these) or buy your way into it by becoming a sponsor (which can work out well).
Instead of spreading yourself too thin and risking becoming annoying in the process you should relax and focus on having deeper conversations with the people you meet. Not everyone is going to be exactly who you’re trying to connect with, but that’s why you set the meetings ahead of time. With the meetings you’ve already set up you already made it worth the trip to the conference, so relax and meet some other people who seem interesting to you.
This rule of relaxing is important because you can’t always expect an instant ROI form the people you meet — that’s just not how conferences work. Some of the people who have helped my business the most are the ones who I ran into randomly, so relax and have fun talking with the people you meet.
Yep, I saved the best for last. The last rule is the most fun, but it can also pay off for you big time. Every conference that I’ve ever gone to has had one thing in common — people are always ready to party. Whether it’s a cocktail hour, official conference get together or after party one thing that you need to be ready for is rocking out.
When it comes to conference parties there are a few things that you need to keep in mind. First, just show up. You’re going to be tired and your comfy bed might sound like a fabulous idea, but you need to take advantage of the party scene even if you don’t feel like it. I’m not saying that you need to stay out until 5am, but you do need to make an appearance and mingle for at least a little while. Don’t worry, once you have a couple drinks and start chatting you’ll be fine.
Here’s a video of me and my main man Jason Shen at a conference in Las Vegas. It never hurts to stand out a little bit, too.
Speaking of drinks — secondly you should feel free to drink, but don’t get too drunk. You know the difference and so does everyone else at the party. There’s nothing wrong with loosening up a bit with a couple drinks, but you still need to be on your game when it comes to talking about your business. Have fun, but don’t be that guy.
Last, but not least, you need to pace your partying according to whatever you can handle. If you’re not normally the party guy and you need 7-8 hours of sleep to function, then you should probably stay away from the party-till-the-sun-comes-up after party that you’re thinking about going to. Partying, like anything, is an acquired skill and rocking out too hard early on can make the rest of your conference miserable. If you have fun and pace yourself you should make it to the end with no problems.
If you follow these rules then you’re going to put yourself in the best position to get the most out of your conference. Just keep in mind that conferences are different than your normal day-to-day work, so they require a different kind of focus before and during the event. Preparing before you go, relaxing while you’re there and rocking out when you can will make sure that the conference is a success for you so just have some fun and the rest will fall into place.
If you have any other conference suggestions I’d love to hear them — let me know your thoughts in the comments below!