Technology connects all of us and has made the world a much smaller place. But, there's still something about an in person meeting and connection we crave and seek out as humans. As a freelancer or often the sole Marketing person at a start up, I turned to conferences to find inspiration and likeminded creatives with whom I could brainstorm and collaborate.
Depending on why you're attending a conference and what you're hoping to get from it, you may be disappointed or you may be elated.
Sadly, I find many of the people I interact with are in the first camp--they're disappointed.
Even worse, I also find that many people don't see any long-term benefits. Want to see those long-term benefits? Follow these five tips guaranteed to maximize your investment.
What are your goals for attending conferences?
By attending conferences I have met some incredible people, learned about some new tools I can use to be more efficient at work, and more. While obvious, I've also discovered not everyone goes to conferences for the same reasons or with the same expectations.
This year has been a year of attending conferences--Alt Summit Winter 2014, Women 2.0, Alt for Everyone Spring 2014 (online), Alt Summit Summer 2014, BlogHer14, La Cocina Food and Entrepreneurship Conference, and Circles Conference (online). And, I've got two more before the end of the year.
With the exception of two of the conferences (La Cocina Food and Entrepreneurship Conference and Circles Conference), most of these conferences were attended by mostly women (a refreshing change for me). There were things I liked and disliked about each, but in all instances I achieved the goals I set prior to attending (goals that were my reason for securing a ticket).
How to Get a Return on Your Conference Investment
Simply purchasing a ticket to a conference and showing up won't guarantee you a return on your conference investment.
And, let's face it, conferences are expensive so you want to be sure it's helping your business to grow. Here are five things you should do:
- Order business cards. Make sure you say what you do and how you want people to engage (include your favorite social media profiles). If you want people to hire you, consider including a phone number. Sometimes editors and brands need someone immediately for a quote right before deadline or to fill a last minute opening. Make it easy for them to reach you.
- Connect before you go. Monitor the event hashtag and social media accounts for the event organizer and sponsors. Add people talking about attending the event to a Twitter list and get to know them. (Read their blog and follow them on social media.) Create a Facebook group for the event if there isn't one and tell people about it. Invite people you know are going to the event to join.
- Talk with your fellow attendees. Find out why they're attending, what are their goals? You may be the person they're looking for, but if you don't ask, you won't know. For online conferences, leverage chat functionality and Facebook groups. If the conference doesn't have either, head to the airwaves. Set up a search on Twitter for the conference hashtag and follow what's being said. Add people who are tweeting to a conference Twitter list so that you can get context on what they're interested in besides the conference. If someone shares something that resonates with you, favorite it for later, retweet it, and start a conversation. If someone shares something you wrote, favorite it for later, and thank them (a thank you is a great way to start a conversation).
- Organize your thoughts. Most events are a whirlwind of activity and a fire hose of information. You are going to get overwhelmed (I think it's by design). Devise a system that works for you for remembering points that grabbed your attention and things you want to try (these may be your key takeaways or ideas for where to take your business next). I use Field Notes Pitch Black Edition, 3-Pack Dot-Grid Memo Notebooks (*affiliate link), one for each day of the conference, and color-coordinate Mudder Washi Masking Tape Collection, Pack of 6 (Color Set 4) (*affiliate link), one for contacts I said I'd send information to and another for contacts I'd like to follow up with in the future about working together.
- Reconnect after you return home. Conferences are exhausting. They're even more so draining because the adrenalin high you felt while attending is gone. Motivating yourself to follow through can be a challenge, especially with all of the work you left behind. But, you're missing out on the true value of your conference if you don't follow up. (I'm guilty of this so I can completely empathize.) Whether it's a week after the conference or half a year later, take some time and reach out. This is where your notes help! If you organized your business cards as you collected them, you can use your notes to help trigger the other person's memory. For example, include the conference you attended as well as the session where you met and what you briefly chatted about.
Credits: All layouts designed by and images taken by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life.
DISCLOSURE: After the Alt for Everyone Spring 2014 conference, I began working for Altitude Summit as Social Media Director and attended both Alt Summit Summer and Alt for Everyone Fall 2014 in this role and did not pay for my tickets.
The gift box shown in this post was sent to all attendees of Alt for Everyone who paid a shipping fee, which I did. If you're interested in the brands behind the contents check out my Instagram.
This post contains affiliate links, followed by (*affiliate link). I feature products that I own or that I am considering purchasing. I own all of the products included in the post. All opinions presented are my own.