Conferences are immensely valuable but to get the most out of your time on the ground you have to be ready to soak it all in. Taking some time before to prepare, and returning from the conference ready to communicate what you've learned will ensure that you and in turn, your company, will get the most bang for your buck.
1. Review the agenda
You never, ever want to show up to a conference without having carefully reviewed the agenda. You need to plan your time at the conference carefully, ensuring that you maximize it. What sessions are musts for you? What speakers do you really want to see? What roundtable discussion will help you with the challenges you face now? Find those events and add them to your calendar.
2. Search LinkedIn for local contacts
If you are visiting a different city to attend a conference, review LinkedIn for contacts you have in that city. There is no reason to fly across the country and miss the opportunity to connect with people you know virtually and need to know in real life. Use this time to make virtual relationships "in real life” relationships.
3. Review the attendee list.
You want to know who is going to be attending the conference, especially if you have client and prospects attending. Review the attendee list. If your conference publishes a list by company, start there and look for your prospects and clients. Then look at the individual attendees to see who you need to schedule to meet. Make a list of people to meet and make calls and book meetings.
4. Schedule breakfast, lunch, dinner and parties.
There is no reason to go to a conference and not have breakfast, lunch, and dinner with the people you need to know. More still, go to parties and hang out with cool people in a casual environment. This is where a lot of real relationships get started. Don’t sit in your hotel room like some wallflower. Go meet great people!
5. Schedule meetings.
It’s tough to schedule meetings during the time the conference is going on (outside of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and parties). But scheduling appointments for the weeks following the conference is the most important outcome you can achieve. Ask for the meetings you need when you are face-to-face with your prospects and clients.
6. Share with clients and prospects.
Be prepared to share what you learned with your clients and prospects. If you go to the time and trouble of attending a conference, take the time to attend the sessions with the goal of capturing ideas you can share with your clients and prospects when you return to work. Start with the goal of sending a conference insights newsletter to your clients when you get back.
7. Focus on the ROI.
Your job is to get a return on the investment of attending the conference for you and your company. If your company spends $150,000 sending your team to the conference, setting up a booth and sponsoring the event, you likely owe them $1,000,000 in revenue (I assumed a 15% margin, but you can do your own math). It isn’t enough to have a good time and meet great people. You also have to achieve real, measurable business outcomes. Make something happen.