Monday, March 7, 2011

How to Make the Most of a Professional Conference or Trade Show

Here are ways to make the expense and time of attending a professional conference or trade show well worth it.
  • Apply to be a presenter, even if only to give a poster session or be a panel member. Instant credibility.
  • See if you can be a volunteer at the conference. You'll get free conference registration and if, for example, you request to be assigned to the registration desk, you'll meet all sorts of people.
  • On arrival, your packet will likely include a list of attendees and exhibitors. Circle all attendees you'd value meeting. Reviewing that list will also help you remember the names of people you've met before.
  • Note which sessions you really want to attend. Do not feel the need to attend all sessions. Most content can be more efficiently obtained with a Google search. What you can't get on the Net is face time with attendees and exhibitors. (See the next bullet.)
  • The exhibit area is a conference's most underrated opportunity. Often, companies send not just bimbos, but executives to staff their booth. So you can get access to dozens of biggies you'd otherwise have a tough time accessing. It's particularly easy to access those heavy hitters while sessions are going on--exhibit halls tend to be lightly attended then. That's why I encouraged you to not attend all sessions.
  • Before approaching someone at an exhibit booth, take at least one piece of its collateral material, walk away, and read it. Perhaps also Google the company on your SmartPhone or computer. That way, when you approach the person at the booth, you'll be impressively knowledgeable about the company and its key product(s) and/or issues.
  • When you do attend a session, arrive five to ten minutes early and introduce yourself to another attendee from whom you might benefit. For example, if you're looking for a job, approach someone who looks old enough to have hiring power, not someone young enough to be an intern. If the conversation goes well, ask the person if s/he'd like to sit next to you in the session. If not, at the earliest opportunity, stick your hand out, shake their hand, say "It was nice talking with you," and find another prospect.
  • Use a similar process at the networking breaks and wine and cheese events that are common at conferences.
  • At the end of a session, don't jump in line to talk with the speakers. They're usually spent and their goal is to as quickly as possible dispense with the line of acolytes. Wait until the line ends and walk out with the speaker--perhaps back to their car. Or ask the speaker out for a meal during the conference.
  • Speaking of which, do ask people who are likely to benefit you out to a meal during the conference. That adage, "Never eat alone," applies especially to conferences. Also invite a target person to sit next to you on that city tour bus or whatever recreational activity the conference offers.
  • End valuable interactions by proposing a follow-up after the conference.
  • Do remember, throughout, to look for at least as many opportunities to give as to receive.

1 comment:

Maureen Nelson said...

Great tips! I love professional conferences! When have the funds, I like to stay at the conference hotel even if I live in the area, just because it provides even more networking opportunities -- meeting people going to and from their rooms -- out late for drinks, up early for breakfast, whatever. Plus, it feels like a staycation. When it's out of the area, and money's tight, the suggestion you've made on the air -- to stay at the nearby cheapie hotel -- is a good one.

Re: presenting, it's surprisingly easy to get on the roster of presenters for a small regional conference. Once you have that on your resume, it's easier to become a presenter at a national event.

My personal tip is to crash the "private" receptions. I really wanted to meet Sunny Hansen and a few other luminaries in my field. I noticed there was a reception one evening just for the current and past leadership of the professional association sponsoring the conference. I wandered in, got a drink in my hand and acted like I belonged there. It helped that one of my old instructors was there; I asked her for the intro to Sunny.


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