I see it at every conference—wide-eyed newbies with entirely too much knowledge crammed in their head and a stack of business cards they have no clue how to handle. Don’t panic! We’re here to walk you through the entire experience. Every conference is different in what it offers, and I tailor my actions around what I had hoped to get out of the event. It starts with planning sessions, moves throughout the conference and doesn’t end for several weeks after as I take action on the things I have learned and follow up on the contacts made.
Sometimes, the right track for you becomes obvious. Other times, you may be torn between two different sessions. It can be very difficult to choose. Typically, I try to choose the one that will be the most interactive—a Q & A, anything labeled “clinic” or “workshop,” or one with speakers I hope to meet. For the sessions I have to miss, I try to find a live blog or video after the event. Several conferences will even videotape each session for you to access later.
Don’t forget to stop by and visit the sponsors’ booths. In addition to the swag you’re sure to stumble on, pay special attention to brands or networks you already work with and those with which you hope to create a relationship. Be sure to drop your business cards into the drawings for the rest though. I have won something pretty major at each of my conferences, and even developed good relationships with companies I hadn’t set out to meet through their follow-ups after the event.
The cocktail parties and after hours events are one of the greatest parts of the conference experience! I see too many newbies skipping them—either to rest, go home early or attend off-site events. This is a huge mistake! Not only is it respectful to your hosts to attend the planned events, but you’re missing out on real opportunities to connect. Sponsors, PR reps and other bloggers are using the cocktail parties to relax and get to know one another on a personal level. Some of my greatest contacts were obtained through conference cocktail parties. Don’t overlook this amazing opportunity!
Similarly, conference meals are a low key opportunity to network. The best thing you can do is just pick a seat at an empty table and wait for what happens — if you go into lunch with people you already know, you’ll miss out on the chance to meet new people who can support your blog. I actually have food allergies that are not well-suited to conference food, but I go along anyway for fantastic conversations with other bloggers, experts, PR reps and sponsors.
By the time the conference is over, you’ll have collected a fishbowl of business cards. Don’t stress over keeping them organized during the event — too often, you’re meeting people on the fly, exchanging business cards in the hallway and barely have enough time to pocket it before your next session. I actually selected my laptop bag specifically for its outside pockets. I keep my own business cards in one, then stuff those I’m collecting in another pocket. If you have a lengthy conversation with someone, you should have time to jot a note or two on the back so you can make the connection again later.
This is where a Poken is incredibly helpful, since you’ll have the person’s picture on their digital business card. When you return home (or each night in the hotel room, if there’s time) sort them into 4 piles—new friends, potential partners in your niche, PR reps and sponsors, and other bloggers. Spend a few minutes each week contacting them all personally—do not add them to your newsletter and try to avoid a generic mass mailing. You can use a quick Tweet or an email template, but take the time to personalize it to let them know you remember meeting them.
In addition to all the fabulous people you’ll meet, the onslaught of information can be overwhelming. Avoid the glazed eyes and panic attacks with this very simple trick. Before you leave each session, write down one (an only one!), single action item to take when you return. Yes, there will be much more information, but picking one thing you want to do right away will help you focus. Save the rest of your notes for next month, when you’ve had a chance to process things a little more.
Whether it is increasing my productivity, traffic or income, I work hard to ensure each conference experience is worthwhile. I usually return home with 7-10 action items and a slew of new contacts. Instead of stressing over doing everything all at once, I pick one item each day to implement and one person each week to reconnect with. I’d rather have a few meaningful contacts than a mass email list. I’d rather have a few strong improvements than a huge list of things I’ll never actually get done.
About the Author:
Heather Sokol is the founder of the Inexpensively frugal blogging networkInexpensively.com and reports progress on learning to be a grown-up at JustHeather.com and has been attending business conferences since 2000, including 5 blogging conferences in last year. She is the married mother of three beautiful, active girls who have created in her a Montessori mom, Scout mom, allergy mom and avid coupon clipper. She shares her deals and tips at