This is a guest contribution by Natalie Hailey of Hot Content, one of our attendees for 2018.
Let’s face it, going to a conference is a big investment.
First, there’s the money you’ll spend on your ticket, travel, hotel (sometimes two or three nights) and then the money you need for meals and those all-important alcoholic drinks.
Second, going to a conference is a serious investment of your time. You’re taking often a few days out of your business, when you already don’t have enough time to get everything done!
So how can you make sure you do everything you can to eek as much value out of it as possible?
Research who’s going
As far as possible before the event, find out who’s going so you know who you most want to introduce yourself to, meet and chat to.
Some conferences will set up a Facebook group for attendees before the event as a way to help people get to know each other in the lead up, this is obviously a great way to form a ‘hit list’ of those you want to speak to.
Other ways to find out who else will be there is to simply ask your social media audience or search using the event hashtag to look for people talking about having just booked a ticket for or announcing their attending the event.
Get yourself to the social
It’s a fact that the real networking and the real connections are made at the social, ideally with a few beers for social lubrication.
This is when the guy you thought was really dull reveals his quirky sense of humour, where the prim and proper accountant shows herself to be the life and soul of the party and where the stiff in the suit lets his guard down to reveal a sensitive, gentle soul.
Now these are the people you want to ‘friend’ on Facebook, to refer clients to and to collaborate with.
Of course there are lines not to be crossed… loud, lairy and loutish behaviour is not often a precursor to long and fruitful working relationships, for example, although I for one would love to hear stories of where this has been the case!
Also, don’t bow to peer pressure and force yourself to stay out until 5am because everyone’s making a real effort because it’s your birthday, even though you really want to be tucked up in bed only to feel like you want to die for the next 48 hours… happened to a friend.
Now, the jury’s out on whether business cards are dead or still very much alive. I think it’s a personal choice.
For me, I prefer to connect with people I meet on social media, usually straight away before I forget!
The initial connection is made at the conference, seeds are sown which should then be nurtured and cultivated online afterwards.
Of course this works the other way around too. I’ve got to know a great many people online, through membership communities and Facebook groups and have come to consider them friends, yet I’ve never met them in the flesh.
One of the best things about conferences is the way it gives you the opportunity to meet those people IRL and give them a good squeeze (optional).
Pluck up the courage to speak to the speakers
Decent conferences will have world-class industry leaders on the stage.
This is your chance to introduce yourself to influential figures who you can learn from, align yourself with and potentially collaborate with in the future.
Of course, it takes time to build a relationship to a point of being able to say you can truly do any of these things, but the best way to do it is by meeting them face-to-face and having a natter.
In my experience, the speakers, however influential and renowned, are usually humble and genuinely flattered to hear your comments on your talk and always interested to hear what you do. I’ve yet to meet an obnoxious, off-hand speaker.
Most speakers usually get stuck in and embrace the after-party, so even if you can’t catch them at the conference itself, why not have a chat at the bar?
Most conferences will have an event hashtag (#MarketEdLive) that they ask delegates to use in any of their tweets about the event.
Because event organisers want to gain as much exposure on social media as possible – ideally get their hashtag trending – some will run competitions and offer incentives for the most active Tweeters.
The benefits to you of tweeting are that you’re in the running for any prizes on offer, your Twitter feed is busy, and the interaction you’ll have with other attendees will give you the chance to connect with, and hopefully meet, more people at the conference.
Blog about your experience
So you’ve taken a load of notes, but how do you make sure that they don’t just remain jumbled sentences that meant something at the time but, a few weeks later, mean nothing at all?
The best way to consolidate everything you’ve learnt and taken away from a conference is to write it all up in a blog. John Espirian does this really well.
Not only will this clarify and reinforce your own learning, but it will be of huge value to other attendees and no doubt the event organisers themselves, who’ll be eager to share your content with their audience – great exposure for you!
This last point is arguably the most important.
Given the investment you’ve made, in your conference ticket, your business and yourself, the best way to make sure you get a return on that investment is to implement the things you’ve learnt there.
It’s very easy to take notes and feel impressed about what we’ve heard at these events, but unless we actually use it to make some changes, start something new or take a different approach, we’re not getting the most value.
Don’t be overwhelmed like this. Sometimes just one tiny tweak off the back of a golden nugget from a speaker on stage can be enough to pay for your conference ticket… and so much more!
Armed with this knowledge, I challenge you to get researching, find the most industry-relevant conferences and get prepared to use them as a platform to propel your business forward!
Natalie Hailey is the founder of Hot Content, helping people with blogging and content.