There’s a reason business conferences come with price tags that make you pause before jumping: they are potential goldmines for your business. I’ve spent more than a decade producing, speaking at and attending a variety of business conferences, and I’ve learned long ago that there is so much more to a conference than just simply showing up.
In order to get your full ROI and then some, you need to take full advantage of the amazing opportunities afforded to you by conferences: before, during and after.
Here are some of my top tips to get the most bang for your buck:
1. Register early. Most conferences have an early bird registration that can help save you anywhere from $50 to $500. For many conferences, if you decide not to use your ticket, you can always try to sell it to someone else later (who would likely be happy to buy it at the early bird price) or you can leverage it as a marketing tool and do a giveaway of your ticket.
2. Grab the conference badges that say you are attending, sponsoring or exhibiting and post it everywhere: your website, your e-newsletters, heck, even add it to your e-mail signature if you want. Doing this helps build your credibility and enhance your expert positioning.
3. Tweet about it. Let folks know via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, BizNik, and other sites that you are participating in this conference. Again: this helps build your credibility and also gives you some exciting business news to talk about.
4. Ramp up your marketing materials. Make sure you have enough business cards, signage, coupons, promotional products, etc. Better to have more and bring some home than to run out and leave with missed opportunities.
5. Blog about it. Participating in a conference gives you the perfect opportunity to further flex your expert muscles by writing about a related topic. Say the conference is for baby clothing manufacturers. Your blog post could be about the top 10 trends in baby clothing you expect to see at the conference. Will your expectations be correct? Bingo: there’s an opportunity to do a post-conference blog post!
DURING THE CONFERENCE
1. Smile and talk to everyone. For the love of your business, don’t walk into a conference with a chip on your shoulders. You are not more important than anyone else in that room — THEY are all critical to your success. So slap on the biggest S.E.G. you can, and talk to everyone. I mean, EVERYONE. A business conference that you just paid $595 for is no time for your wallflower side to prevail.
2. Focus on meeting new people; you can chat with your friends later. It’s wonderful to see familiar faces at conferences. It puts you at ease. So go say hi to your pal Sally, and then tell her you’ll catch up for drinks later. Then go talk to everyone else. If you only talk to your friends and colleagues you already know, you just spent $595 on what could have just been a $50 backyard barbecue — and you missed out on potential business opportunities.
3. Take really good notes. Conference organizers take great care in securing top notch speakers who have a lot of experience and wisdom to pass on. You are there not only to connect, but to learn. Don’t just live tweet the event, but bring a pen and paper and jot down the nuggets of advice, stats, ideas shared by the speakers. Make note of who said what as well, because you can use those nuggets as conversation starters with the speakers after their sessions.
4. Jot down notes on the back of each business card you collect to help you remember who was who after the conference. Or, if you have Evernote, have each person hold up their business card to their face and snap their photo; Evernote makes the text on their card searchable, and you can post all of the photos under the title of the conference.
5. Be direct about what it is you want from the person you are speaking with. This is not the time to be shy in asking for what you want. Again, if you spent $595 on a conference, then (wo)man up and ask that amazing new contact if they can refer you to their huge new client, who just so happens to need your exact services. They can decline, but at least you won’t be left wondering “what if.”
6. Make every conversation a two-way street: now that you’ve asked that amazing new contact what they can do for you, let them know a couple of specific ways you can help them. One of my founding beliefs is that when you give good, you get good — so remember that opportunities lie in not just getting what you want or need, but in helping others get what they want or need.
7. Attend everything you can. Every missed session is a missed (paid) opportunity. Every missed meal is a missed (paid) opportunity. Every missed party is a missed (paid) opportunity. You get the picture.
1. Send thank you cards within two weeks. I’ll be honest: once I get back from a conference, especially big ones, my head is spinning, and when I sit down to look through business cards, I just want to put them in a box and sleep. What I try to do is write thank you notes while I am at the conference and then mail them afterward. I write them to new people I just met, to speakers who inspired me, and I’ve even written them to sponsors on occasion thanking them for sponsoring a great conference.
2. Blog about it. If you just attended a business conference, I am guessing there are at least three potential posts: 1. Share your overall experience, 2. Share your insight/opinion of one specific panel topic, 3. Follow up on your pre-conference post. In addition to again further enhancing your credibility, another benefit of blogging about it is creating opportunities with those who did not attend the conference. It allows you to open up new dialogues.
3. Organize your experiences & put them into play immediately. A week after I attend a conference, I often forget what that oh-so-important idea was that I wanted to implement into my business. What I try to do now, and it’s not always easy, is to sit down and organize my notes right away into three categories: Implement, Save, Remember + Recycle.
4. Download data into your lists. If you collected data for mailing lists, download it right away and then plan to send an e-newsletter, newsletter or mailer to your list within a month after the conference. This helps keep your business fresh in their minds.
5. Follow-through on those e-mails and phone calls you promised with your new contacts. It is way too easy to drop the ball once you are back to reality. Make sure you reach out to your new contacts within a month after the conference.
These are just a small sample of very general tips to help you make the most of any business conference. Do you have more to add that have helped you?