So you’re going to a conference. Make sure to attend conference-wide events like keynote addresses. The people you’ll attend sessions with are as important as the sessions themselves. Make sure prospects and customers know why they might not hear from you for a few days by setting up an out-of-office reply. What to Do at a Conference You’re here ... Now what? If each of you attends the same sessions and events, your company might as well have only sent one of you. Don’t waste it. You’ve set up meetings with prospects. You can create a dedicated notebook for your conference notes, and tag each note with multiple labels to organize any way you want -- by topic, speaker, or even which day the session took place. Now is also the time to make use of the insights you gained from your prospects.
So you’re going to a conference.
What’s in store for you? You’ll attend dozens of sessions led by professionals in your industry, meet a ton of new people, and take home lots of great swag.
If you’re a conference-going expert, you probably have your own short list of tried-and-true tactics for making the most of a conference. (If so, we’d love to hear in the comments.) But if not, never fear — we’ve got your back with our best tips for how to do it right.
How to Prepare for an Industry Conference
Be prepared. Be prepared. Be prepared.
It bears repeating. The quickest way to throw away hundreds of dollars (besides actually throwing them away) is to go to a conference without sitting down and formulating a plan first.
It’s not exactly military statecraft, but it’s essential. I guarantee there will be no time to stop and pause once you arrive at the event, so take some time to complete the following items before you board that plane/train/bus.
1. Review the agenda.
This one’s a no-brainer. Set a goal for what you’d like to learn at the conference, and use the agenda to devise a plan specifically tailored to that goal. Make sure to attend conference-wide events like keynote addresses. Most conferences won’t hold breakout sessions during these presentations, so you won’t have to worry about missing out on anything else.
When it comes to smaller sessions, consider both the speaker and the subject matter. Highly tactical sessions are generally useful to attend regardless of who leads them. However, sessions less directly related to your profession can be valuable as well if they’re led by an industry figure you’re angling to meet.
2. Orient yourself.
Familiarize yourself with the conference space so you don’t get lost. You don’t want to miss important information, or for a roomful of people to form a negative first impression of you by showing up late.
If you’re attending a smaller conference, it should be enough to take a half hour or so the night before or early in the morning on day one to walk around the space. For larger conferences, this might not be feasible, especially if the show will be held across multiple venues. Grab a map from the host, and keep a copy on your phone or print one out to reference between sessions.
3. Find out who’s going.
The people you’ll attend sessions with are as important as the sessions themselves. There’s no better time to network with your peers, connect with new prospects, or touch base with customers than at a conference.
Most conferences will have a Facebook event page and/or a Twitter hashtag set up. The conference hosts will start promoting these pages in advance of the event, and they’re a great way to keep track of acquaintances and people you’d like to meet.
Don’t count on simply running into prospects at the conference. Instead, reach out to them ahead of time to let them know you’ll both be in attendance. This way, you can book time on their calendars and have their full, undivided attention instead of trying to cram a 15-minute conversation into a stop-and-chat.
4. Set an out-of-office reply.
Let’s be honest: You’ll probably be checking your work email during the conference. But even if you are, you definitely won’t be able to respond at the same clip as you do in the office. Make sure prospects and customers know why they might not hear from you for a few days by setting up an out-of-office reply.
(For inspiration, check out these hilarious examples of out-of-office replies.)
What to Bring to a Conference
Conferences are multi-day affairs where you’ll be booking long hours each day. To remove as much stress as possible from your experience, make sure you’ve taken care of these things before you start your travels to the event:
5. Phone and Laptop Chargers
You’re going to spend a huge part of your day on your devices — don’t get caught with dead batteries. If you plan to stay the entire day, or you’re speaking/exhibiting at this event, bring portable chargers. You might even consider bringing wireless battery packs in case there aren’t outlets available.
6. Business Cards (and Enough of Them)
Make sure you have some business cards on hand and a stash of stationery in your luggage. You never know how many people you’re going to meet and want to network with.
7. Demo Materials
By no means should you spend the conference pitching to people whom don’t want to be pitched to. However, if one of those pre-set prospect meetings turns into a real sales opportunity, it’ll be more efficient — and impressive — if you can provide a walkthrough on the spot.
8. The LinkedIn Mobile App
No networking opportunity is complete without LinkedIn, and…