Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
With must-attend events like SXSW, LeWeb, CES and NAB Show popping up year round, the dollars and hours spent on conferences add up fast. Whether your company sends an entire team to divide and conquer, or you’re a lone wolf going in alone, the cost and time away from the office means it’s critical you maximize the experience.
Without the right strategy, you can miss out on important opportunities, useful connections, and the fun perks. However, a few basic hacks can help you turn the next industry conference into your most meaningful event of the year.
Are you excited to connect with one of the speakers? You’re not alone, hence the long lines that form after any popular session. The best way to make contact with one of the speakers is before the event. Send a quick email a few weeks ahead of time explaining how excited you are to hear his or her talk. Then, arrive at the session 15 to 20 minutes early in hopes of catching the speaker before the session starts.
If it’s a fellow attendee you’re looking to reach out to, take advantage of the networking features in the event’s app. Most event apps today allow you to see who’s attending and who’s in your direct vicinity and send them a message to connect.
Don’t be crippled by FOMO (fear of missing out). Before arriving, research who will be there and make a list of your top goals to ensure you attend the right activities that fulfill your reason for being there. Are you there to build customer relationships or network with industry peers? If a team is involved, make sure that everyone understands his or her priorities for the duration of the show in advance.
3. Visit your must-see vendors during the first days.
The last day is notoriously bad at tradeshows and expos: exhibitors are exhausted and most senior reps have already caught an early flight home. That’s why you should hit your top targets as early into the show as possible. People will be enthusiastic and eager to speak with you, and it leaves plenty of time left should you need to follow up with them or someone else on their team.
4. Remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Unless you are flying in for the day, you can expect to be on the go from 8 am to 2 am for days on end. If you don’t take care of yourself, you will hit a wall pretty fast. Enjoy the bacon-covered donuts and local IPA, but in moderation. Eat properly, stay well hydrated, get a good night’s sleep as much as possible, and refresh with conference group activities like yoga or jogging.
5. You don’t always have to follow the herd.
At any major event, attendees work themselves into a frenzy trying to get into the hottest party or the biggest keynote. However, some of my most memorable and meaningful experiences have taken place at the smaller venues and less popular sessions. Choose events based on your personal interests and business goals, not necessarily what’s trending on Twitter or has the longest line out front.
6. Stop trying to multi-task.
In the rush to prep for an event, you probably pushed other work to the backburner. But the world doesn’t stop turning just because you are at an event. Rather than dividing your attention between the event and the office, find a quiet space and dedicate 1-2 hours per day to address any pressing work needs. Then leave those distractions behind and focus on getting the most out of your time there.
If your company is sending a large group, you’ll want everyone synced and in contact throughout the event. There’s nothing worse than trying to track down someone’s mobile number or wondering if Joe from sales actually checks his texts when it’s crunch time. Before anyone leaves to attend the event, get everyone onboard a group messaging service like GroupMe, Facebook Messenger, a Slack channel or WhatsApp Group Chat.
8. Maximize your session time.
Most people sign up for a session to learn about a particular topic or trend. However, there is much more you can do in the moment, such as making important connections with fellow attendees or gaining exposure with a carefully crafted tweet. Prepare for these moments by familiarizing yourself with the session topics ahead of time, reviewing the speaker’s blog posts, other writings and videos. Many event apps will also share session check-ins, hashtags, and discussions. It’s a great way to make the most out of every session you attend.
9. Teach the newbies and learn from the pros.
Nothing beats the real-world advice and collective wisdom of those who have been there before. If this will be your first time attending a particular show, ask colleagues where you can find the best restaurants, the most reliable Wi-Fi and most useful session tracks, as well as any pitfalls to avoid. Likewise, if your company is sending some first-timers to a show, be sure to share your tips and experiences as well.
10. Accept that things never go as planned.
It’s important to do your homework and prep work before arriving at any large event or festival, but the real magic often happens when you let yourself take advantage of spontaneous opportunities. There are inevitable hiccups at any show, so adopt a Zen-like attitude: roll with the last minute changes and always remember to have fun.