Attending a business conference isn’t just a chance to skip work. If you have a clear idea of what you hope to accomplish, and a plan to get there, your experience can be richly rewarding, both professionally and personally.
Your business objectives almost certainly include getting new customers. Business conferences provide the perfect venue to make valuable connections that lead to new business. They’re also a place where you can learn from experts at plenary sessions, workshops and one-on-one conversations. Whatever your objectives, they will be all the more achievable if you follow these tips.
1. Make a hit list
As a first step, check out the conference website and determine which speakers and/or exhibitors you'd like to connect with as well as which sessions you want to attend. If you're just starting out, you may want to make more connections than if you’re well-established and just hoping to make a few additional targeted business connections. Leave some free time for opportunities that arise unexpectedly.
2. Map your attack
Check out the various sessions and decide where to invest your time. You may be tempted to skip the social events. Don’t! Some of the best connections have been made at event cocktail receptions.
3. Pack your gear
To gather useful information, you’ll need a pen and notebook or an electronic device on which to take notes. Conference goody bags will enable you to temporarily store the booklets, brochures, business cards and other information you collect. Hand out business cards primarily to those you really make a connection with and which could lead to a really good business relationship.
4. Be an open book
Business conferences are a chance to connect with old friends and make new ones. Try to avoid the temptation of only spending time with those you already know, and use the time to meet new people. All events have a way to participate and network, even if it’s just at your table at breakfast or lunch. Introduce yourself to others, introduce others to others, share what you know, ask questions.
5. Share knowledge
Tweet or post Facebook status updates throughout the day and make sure to add hashtag to your tweets so others following the conference can see what you’re tweeting. Let your fans, friends and followers know in advance that you’ll be sharing tips direct from the conference. Plus, sharing pictures from the day boost the likelihood that your message will be re-shared (translation: more exposure).
6. The end is only the beginning
Follow up as soon as possible to building and maintain the relationships you cultivated. It's always best to follow up with someone when your conversation is fresh in your mind, regardless of whether you plan on doing business together immediately. Make phone calls, connect on LinkedIn or shoot a quick email to keep your business fresh in their minds. Above all, make sure you get as much face-to-face time with potential clients. Try to find out what conferences their company is attending and do your best to get there too!
Bethany Hartley is assistant marketing director of the Women’s Business Development Center, a service organization that provides prospective and established business owners with the tools they need to grow their businesses.