The Art of Hacking a Conference Here are five tips to make the most of any conference, without spending a ton of money.

By David Chait

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

For many startups -- or really any company -- conferences can be an invaluable opportunity to showcase your product, meet new partners and make sales. At their core, conferences can be a key driver of growth.

However, they can also be incredibly expensive. Depending on your industry, it's not uncommon for larger conventions to cost thousands of dollars to attend and tens of thousands to exhibit or speak. And this is before factoring in travel and the opportunity cost of time spent away from the office. As a result, it's imperative for companies to get the most out of conferences any way they can.

From my conference experiences and observations here are five conference hacks to make the most of your next big convention.

1. Plan early and be fast.

It may sound overly simplistic (and not even a conference hack), but all too often people don't think about the conferences they're attending until they're already en route. This is a huge mistake and can cost you many of the contacts and meetings for which you were hoping.

Related: 4 Ways to Draw People to Your Booth at Your Next Conference

Far in advance of any conference you should set out your goals and target meetings. This is easier than it has ever been now that conferences typically have attendee apps for messaging and scheduling meetings. Calendars fill up fast, so the day the app is released you should reach out to all of your targets.

2. Be where the action is.

Set yourself up for success by providing every opportunity to meet prospective partners or customers. This means being where the action is and staying at the conference hotel.

While you can save a few bucks by staying off-site, the incremental cost of being on-site at the official conference hotel is worthwhile. This cuts down on any commuting time to events, provides you a quiet and close-by home-base for any calls or email follow-up, and lets you organically make additional connections. You never know who you'll meet at the hotel gym or lobby!

And on that note: always head the conference hotel bar at night. It is truly the best way to meet other conference goers, have meaningful conversations, and build real bonds.

3. Insert yourself in the narrative.

Unless you're literally speaking or exhibiting at a conference, many wrongly assume you can't make a splash. Remember, to be heard, you just need to be loud.

Be loud by finding legitimate ways to insert yourself as a helpful and contributing part of the conference narrative. The simplest way that works for most conferences is to leverage Twitter and conference hashtags. Tweet meaningful thoughts, notes, and commentary for other to read and share. This also works during panel Q&A sessions.

Another way to standout is to research conference designations - like awards or superlatives - in advance. If you find one that matches your company, send in an application.

Related: Live Conferences Still Trump Online. Here's How to Maximize Them.

4. Be strategic with your time.

The best way to effectively hack a conference is to have a set goal you're always working towards. If your goal is purely knowledge, then attending sessions and keynotes is absolutely the best use of time.

However, if your goal is connecting with potential partners and customers, then you should focus exclusively on setting those meetings with the assumption that you'll never actually set foot in the auditorium.

Rest assured - most conferences post videos of speakers for attendees.

5. Give smart handouts.

Finally, if you are exhibiting be smart about your handouts. No one needs a pen or a USB drive and unless you're representing BIC or SanDisk, these giveaways don't even make sense.

Strive for handouts or experiences that are not only creative, but also evocative of your company or product. For example, my company Travefy builds travel planning software and our logo is a paper airplane. To stand out, be fun, and keep costs down, we routinely set up a build your own paper airplane station whenever exhibiting.

All taken together you can make sure to standout and make the most of your next conference experience.

Related: Conferences Are Good for Networking but Great for Marketing

David Chait

Entrepreneur and Problem Solver; Founder & CEO,

David Donner Chait is the co-founder and CEO of group travel tool Travefy. He previously served as senior policy advisor at the SBA and worked as a consultant at McKinsey & Company.

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