I have questioned before whether face-to-face events such as conferences and trade shows were still a relevant meeting spot. When the economy was struggling and we were in the midst of the recession, companies seemed wary to spend extra money on travel and outside opportunities such as conferences and shows. That philosophy seems to have subsided as more and more people are heading back to in-person events.
In fact, as IQMS begins final preparations for our upcoming User Group conference (#IQMSUG2012), I also just returned from a marketing conference (#Inbound2012) where I had the chance to discuss with others that, yes, more people are, again, going outside their four walls to network and meet others in their like industry. This brought up a great conversation over the few days I was out: How do you make the most of a conference or trade show? The general consensus was it comes down to three key points: planning, networking and commitment.
No. 1: Planning
Planning your attendance isn't just about getting the right airfare and hotel booked for
a safe journey. Think bigger! It is important to determine how you plan to spend your time
at the event. If the conference or trade show is done well, there should be plenty of pre-
planning tools available to attendees. Reviewing materials, such as an agenda, can assist in
deciding who should go, how many should go and which sessions you want to attend when
you get there.
Check for a mobile version of the agenda that allows you to personalize and map out your
schedule so you do not miss out on the most important topics. Additionally, you can prepare
topics for discussion or questions you might have that can be answered by other attendees
or session speakers. Check for specific webpages or reach out to the organizers to get more
No. 2: Networking
No matter what the schedule is, or how many people from your company go, a great benefit
of an outside event is always networking! You are somewhere with like-minded individuals
who are in the same situation, be it the same job, industry, interest or geographic region.
Find out if the organizers have any networking or introduction opportunities to take
advantage of. Don't be afraid to introduce yourself to different people by sitting at a
different table every day, chatting up someone in the coffee line or just saying hello to the
person sitting next to you. In most all instances, other attendees understand you aren't
hitting on them but rather attempting to make professional connections. It just takes one
person to break the ice.
Conversations don't have to be long or deep and can start out with general information like,
"Where are you from?" or "What's your industry?" or even "Who do you work for?" Also, don't
worry if you don't remember everyone's names, not many people do and, frankly, that is
what name badges are for! Do bring business cards to help with introductions or go the high
technology route with free mobile contact sharing applications such as Bump. At a recent
conference, there were five of us all sharing contact information with the "bump" of a
phone, allowing us to share important information with each other later at the event or later
in the month. Making contacts at conferences allows for more networking and
communication well into the future.
No. 3: Commitment
Simply put, you will only get out of a conference what you put into it. If you aren't
interested in being there and don't participate, you are just spending days away from your
desk. To be committed, you should attend as many sessions as possible, with as open a
mind as possible. If you don't have a comment or question, just listen and you might learn
from what other attendees have to say. It could be someone else's story, a speaker's quote
or an overheard solution - inspiration and benefits come in many forms. Most importantly,
put the phone and email away. When you are at the event, be at the event. Use agenda
breaks to check in at work and ask team members back at the office to step up and assist
with any urgent matters. Put into the event what you want to get out of it!
As we prepare our EnterpriseIQ users for our IQMS User Group conference, I hope our attendees (or anyone attending an upcoming conference or trade show) think about these three small ideas in an effort to make the most of their experience.