Before you commit to attending an industry conference (or sending a group of employees) you must know what you want to accomplish with the necessary investment of time and money. Very often people look at the registration cost as the investment, but forget the travel, lodging, food and drink costs that also add up very fast at a multi-day event. Attending for the sake of "being there" will leave you will less money and no tangible return on investment.
What do you want to learn? The best events offer many concurrent educational sessions and other opportunities to gain knowledge. Closely review the daily schedule and list of trade show vendors to assess what information will be available to you.
Make sure that everyone on your team knows the priorities of the desired learning experience so that they are sure to show up at the keynotes and break-out sessions. The reality is that once people get to the event, stay up late and drink too much, feel the pull of email, texts, conference calls, etc... and it becomes easy to skip out on the meat of the conference.
Tolerate no excuses from yourself or others for not heavily participating in the scheduled events, as you can play on your iPhone, check email, make calls and sit with co-workers back at the office without having to spend the money involved with attending a convention.
Who do you want to meet? Industry events are ripe for networking opportunities, but if left to chance you can miss out on making the types of connections that will lead to real business in the long run. Many people are not good at spontaneous networking, thus it is in your best interest to pre-set meetings with those who you know will be at the convention that you would like to meet or get to know better.
Make people your priority, not your electronic gadgets. Do not sit in sessions and punch away at your SmartPhone. You are always being watched. When you are tuned out from the speaker and wildly texting, you are sending a message to everyone in the room that you are not part of the group. You are all there together, and if you are focused elsewhere you show that you are not part of the team. A conference is a mini-society, and if you choose to be disengaged you will not be approachable.
Attend all the social events and coffee breaks. Too many people use this time to check in with the office, but they miss the chance to meet people. If the conference is worth attending then the other people in attendance are worth knowing. Seek out other people and have meaningful conversations. Ask questions of them, as when they first meet you people are more interested in talking about themselves than hearing about your and your business. You will get your turn to talk.
Meet the vendors. The sponsors and those with trade show booths can always be a valuable resource. Know which of your vendors, competitors, and others will be at the show and seek them out. Also, find you vendors competitors. Even if you are happy with their services it is in your best interest to have a "back up plan" just in case the relationship chances or they go out of business. Be clear with potential vendors whom you do not want calling you all the time that you would like to know them, but do not want to be chased like a rabbit from a hungry wolf. Smart salespeople will work with you to be the "on deck" vendor without being too pushy.
The more vendors you know who serve your industry the more information you will gain over the long run about market trends and the actions of your competition. I have never understood why people avoid vendors, as they are often the best source of knowledge.
When you have a plan about how to best use your time at a convention you will see much better results than if you just "wing it". A pre-convention discussion with the key members of your team (those attending and those who will not be attending) about the goals for the event will ensure you will have maximized your conference long before you arrive.
Have A Great Day
Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Networking Catalyst". He regularly speaks at industry conventions and trade shows where he inspires the audience (and vendors) to maximize their participation at the event. One of the top reasons people attend business conferences is for the "Networking Opportunities", and yet once there they fail to create connections that will have any meaningful impact on their career. Thom sets the tone for the culture of the conference which becomes the foundation for a more meaningful set of interactions.