Conference Hacking: 10 Ways to Get More Out of Going to Events

May 27, 2015

Conference Hacking

Attending industry events doesn’t come cheap, and it can be easy for a three-day conference to pass by in a blur of panels and name tags. But if you take a few key steps before you arrive at the hotel ballroom or convention center, conferences can be hugely rewarding and highly valuable.

A bit of planning goes a long way to optimizing your experience and making the most of your time (and budget) away from the office. Here’s what to do before, during, and after your next event.

Before you go:

  1. Define success. What are your goals? Do you want to make connections, meet specific contacts, catch up with prospects, get educated on industry-specific content, attract new leads? Define what success means to you, and prioritize these goals as you map out your strategy.
  1. Review the agenda. Time is precious. What are the must-see presentations to meet your goals? Any speakers you’re interested in specifically? It’s important to mark your calendar and budget your time accordingly. Make sure to allot some time for walking the exhibit floor.
  1. Determine target companies. Study the sponsors and exhibiting companies and prioritize who you’d like to meet with during your time in the exhibition hall. Be prepared to ask questions and rehearse what you’d like them to know about you in under a minute.
  1. Use LinkedIn. This platform offers a lot of resources for your event strategy. Research the speakers and companies you plan to meet. Who are some of key people likely to be attending from exhibiting companies? What sort of content are they publishing? Which influencers are they watching? This is a great way to get to know your target connections and also a good way to reach out to set up a meeting.

Extra credit: Search for LinkedIn groups related to the conference. This is a great way to identify contacts likely to be in attendance, as well as take a pulse on the discussion leading up to the event. Join in the conversation and get your name into the mix prior to the event. Take this same approach in Facebook groups and on Twitter event hashtags.

  1. Schedule meetings! Arrange coffees, breakfasts, and drink “dates” during the conference. Conferences are occasions where your prospects are opting-in to a few days of strategic meetings: take advantage! Like you, they’re on a mission, so try to get on their calendar ahead of time.

While you’re there:

  1. Networking is a must, but don’t be that guy (or gal). You don’t have to meet every person at the event and you’ll quickly get a reputation as someone to avoid if you aggressively attempt to do so. It’s important to follow your strategy of key contacts, questions, and spiels as you planned. 
  1. Don’t be afraid of the competition. It’s useful to see their messaging and hear their pitch, and it’s also good practice to maintain an open dialogue and friendly communication. And hey, you never know where your counterpart may end up in the future!
  1. Break bread with new people. Attend the conference meals and coffee breaks and sit down at a table where you don’t know anyone. It’s another great opportunity to nurture relationships, learn about other attendees, and understand how others are operating in your industry.
  1. Attend the social events. Here’s where you’ll get the best intel and do your best networking. It’s a more casual environment and people tend to be more relaxed once they have a drink in hand. This is a natural venue to nurture relationships, have meaningful conversations, and debate the merits of the day’s speakers. And say yes to the after party!

You survived, now what?

  1. Follow up. When the conference ends, the work has only just begun. Follow up with every conversation you had and every business card you collected. After all, it’s about building your network and nurturing those budding relationships. If you don’t follow up, the event may as well have never happened. Even if the event was in Vegas, the great networking you did shouldn’t stay in Vegas.

Voila! Your ten-point plan for getting the most out of the events you attend. Now get out there and rock those cheese-and-cracker breaks.

(Have any pro tips for making an event work for you? Let us know in the comments.)