Thursday, September 08, 2011

Read This On a Flight to the Conference

Wheels up.  You are now your way to a conference, convention, seminar, or association / industry meeting.  Multiple days away from the office.  Captivating keynote speakers.  Detailed breakout sessions.  Information overload. Crowds of people who could become important business contacts.  Maybe a trade show to view the latest products and services to make you more efficient.

Wow, you have a busy few day ahead!

Your co-workers think you are off on a boondoggle at an exotic resort.  They assume attending the conference means party, party, party and then some time at the pool.  The reality is that even if you do have a little time to play some golf or do some shopping, the event is about work and your schedule is full.

Your investment of time and money to be at the convention is substantial, and maybe your boss is making you attend (you might not necessarily event want to be there).  However, since you are already on the plane flying across the country you might as well make the most of your participation once you arrive.

Here are nine tips to help you maximize the conference:

1.  Check in ASAP.  If the event starts the next day you might be tempted to wait until the morning to pick up your nametag and conference materials.  However, the lines will be longer in the morning, and if they might have a whole bag of welcome "goodies" that you will then need to carry around the rest of the day.  If the registration booth is open, take care of this right away.

Additionally, there might be unofficial events happening the night you arrive and showing up early could equal an invitation to a VIP activity.  Ask the person checking you in if there is anything going on or if there are people seeking dinner companions.  A good conference team will be happy to try to connect people.  It is often the serendipitous meetings that happen early at a conference that lead to the most meaningful connections.

2. Review the agenda in detail.  Read over the descriptions of all the keynote and breakout sessions.  NOT JUST THE TITLES.  Too often speakers come up with quirky titles that can hide the real power of the information that will be presented (or vice versa).  I have seen many people skip out on certain sessions only to later realize they missed some powerful information.  Make your decisions as to what are your "must see" presentations in advance.  This way if something comes up (like you are tired or have a work emergency) you are familiar with the areas in the schedule where you have flexibility.

3.  Say "Hello".  Once you put on your nametag you become part of the mini-society of the conference.  Do not by shy in talking to others who are sporting the same nametag.  If you were in Europe and you saw someone wearing a t-shirt with your hometown or college name on it ... you would defiantly say "Hi".  In the halls of the hotel or convention center there might be many groups present, but those at your conference are present for the same reasons (one of which is meeting others).  Be the person who initiates conversations.  If you wait for others to talk to you, it could be a lonely conference.

4.  Do not check your phone in the conference area.  Too many people spend the breaks or the time just before a breakout session glued to their smart phones checking emails, etc...  When you do this you broadcast to the other attendees that you are not approachable.  People cannot come and talk with you, as that would be rude, so they write you off.  This feeling about you might subconsciously remain at social events later in the conference.  If you have to take a call, step away from the conference area.  Yes, you are busy and have stuff to keep up with, but it can wait a few minutes or you should not have traveled to the convention in the first place.  Twenty years ago when people attended a trade show they were present both physically and mentally.  Now many show up in body only.

This does not mean you cannot pull out your phone during a presentation.  If the speaker says something interesting, you may want to post his comments to Twitter or Facebook.  If the speaker is too boring to keep your attention, then that is his or her problem... and you are free to check email (but give them a chance first).

5.  Have and exchange business cards.  There is a trend for people to not carry or ask for business cards.  But without the exchange of a card the reality of a follow up goes way down.  The card is a reminder in the physical world that you met this person.  Too many just bump, "Link In", or tell the other person to "Google them" to get contact information.  While some actually follow through, most contact information gets lost in the digital stew and nothing ever happens.  Getting the cards, and keeping them nearby until you actually follow-up, is important.

Never expect the other person will follow up with you.  You must own the follow-up once you get home or they will most likely become lost in your past as someone you met once.  There is a big difference between someone you have met at a meeting and a person with whom you have cultivated an ongoing friendship.  Relationships do not happen by accident.

6.  Take notes.  I recently listened to a keynote presentation from a person who was a lifetime business adviser and friend to Steve Jobs.  This guy was actively sharing important nuggets of business advice to a room of 500 entrepreneurs.  Only about a dozen people were taking any notes.  While is information was interesting, he was not so captivating that his words were to be burned into the soul.  Few people probably remembered this guy's insightful information.  Take notes so you can review them on the flight home and you will retain more to put to use when you get back to the office.

7.  Meet the vendors.  There is often a stigma about the trade show portion of business events.  Many people never even venture into the room to visit the booths.  People are scared of being pounced upon by sales people and fear being added to yet another email list.  But vendors are the best friends you can have in your industry.  The good ones are keenly aware of what your competition is doing, and they are always happy to share ideas and best practices with those they have developed meaningful relationships.  If you are not interested in what a vendor has to sell, just say so.  Most sales professionals know not everyone they meet is an instant prospect (some think that way), but cultivating friendships with sponsors is often a quick way for you to uncover future opportunities.

8.  Have fun.  Event planners put in a lot of effort to ensure that conferences are both informational and entertaining.  Take full advantage of the entertaining part of an event.  Even if you are a bit of an introvert you can still have fun at the social activities.  When you get over your initial trepidation about the networking you can focus on having a good time.

Now, fasten your seat belt, return your tray table to its upright position, and have a wonderful time at the conference.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections. 

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