Here are seven tips for taking full advantage of a conference: how to prepare, planning your schedule, effective networking, taking notes, and following up.
Seven Tips for Taking Full Advantage of a Conference
Conferences are making a solid comeback, offering unparalleled opportunities for networking, learning, and innovation. They provide exposure to targeted audiences and enable conversations with potential clients and partners. They’re a powerful platform for showcasing products, gaining real-time feedback, and staying abreast of industry trends. This visibility can lead to valuable leads and networking opportunities.
This post is intended for entrepreneurs considering attending a particular conference or trade show for the first time. They may be going just to gather information about trends and topics, scout competition, or are considering presenting or exhibiting and want to get the lay of the land before making a significant commitment of time and effort.
To help you make the most out of these events, here are some essential tips to keep in mind
- Prepare Before You Go
- Plan Your Schedule
- Stand Out By Asking Good Questions
- Network Intentionally
- Talk To Everyone
- Take Notes and Share Insights
- Follow Up
1. Prepare Before You Go
Before attending any conference, scope out the exhibitors and speakers to identify potential clients, partners, and competitors who will participate. Set clear objectives to focus your efforts and any spending on your goals.
It’s also a good idea to reach out to folks who have attended in previous years to get their perspective on the conference and how to take advantage of it. If they plan to attend you can ask them if they are looking forward to any particular sessions and offer to attend a session with them.
2. Plan Your Schedule
Conferences can be overwhelming with back-to-back sessions, workshops, and networking events. Review the agenda in advance and prioritize sessions that are most relevant. Note the interesting speakers and panel organizers you want to meet. Panel organizers are normally good networkers who are well worth your time to build a relationship with.
- Review the vendor list or exhibitors guide. Some may be competitors, others are potential partners.
- Review the speaker list or program guide.
- Review who the organizers and panel moderators are.
Allocate time for networking and breaks to recharge, ensuring you don’t burn out especially if you are an introvert.
3. Stand Out by Asking Good Questions
There is a temptation to pitch but good questions and active listening are more effective at nurturing business relationships. Ask questions during sessions, participate in workshops, and engage in discussions. Here are a few of our favorites:
- What’s the most important thing you’ve learned?
- Here’s something that surprised me. What’s been surprising for you?
- This is my first time. Do you have any advice for me?
4. Network Intentionally
Networking is a cornerstone of conference benefits. Make an effort to connect with other attendees, speakers, and exhibitors. Prepare a short introduction about yourself and questions to facilitate conversations. You might need two or three introductions based on the role and title of the other person.
For questions, think about what is going to intrigue them to spend more time talking to you.
- Here’s what we do, what do you guys do?
- Who do you think we should look at?
Conversations tend to divide into different durations: 90s, 3-5 minutes, 10-15 minutes, and 20-30 minutes. Be alert to how interested the other person is in continuing the conversation and exchange contact information before saying goodbye.
5. Talk to Everyone
Talking to everyone at a conference maximizes networking opportunities, opening doors to diverse professional connections, insights, and potential collaborations. It broadens your understanding of the industry, exposes you to different perspectives, and can unveil unexpected opportunities for growth, partnerships, or learning. Engaging with a wide range of participants enhances your visibility and can lead to serendipitous encounters that might significantly impact your business.
6. Take Notes and Share Insights
When you have returned from the conference and had a chance to curate your notes and reflect on your experience, share them with your team. This will help reinforce your learning and foster a working consensus on the next steps to take in your startup. It’s also helpful to share them with your network in an article or a blog post, as this will encourage others to reach out to you.
7. Follow up
Don’t forget to follow up with your new connections after the conference to maintain and build those relationships. Include one or two specific details from the conversation to help them recall you. For example, “I enjoyed our conversation at lunch on Tuesday at the Red Rock Cafe. I appreciated your suggestion to pay attention to OPM as an emerging sensor modality.”
I hope these tips help you improve your conference game and get maximum benefit from attending. It’s important to prepare by studying the program and exhibit guide as well as asking others who have attended previously. ask for insight It advocates for thorough preparation, strategic scheduling, and active engagement through insightful questions. Emphasizing intentional networking with tailored introductions, the guide encourages talking to a wide audience for diverse connections. Documenting and sharing key takeaways further establishes your thought leadership. These steps ensure a comprehensive approach to leveraging conferences for networking, learning, and innovation opportunities.
…Upon Further Reflection
“Confusion is rarely succinct, because it’s not easy for her to explain what she doesn’t understand.”
An established conference or trade show embeds a subculture and reflects an ecosystem. Often, your extended reaction to such a complex new situation is confusion. The trick is to be patient with yourself, get many different perspectives–even though they will conflict–take notes, and schedule time to reflect. Record to remember, pause to reflect. Capturing your thoughts as diagrams or mind maps can help encode information that complements the narratives implicit in your notes. Sharing both these diagrams and your notes, as well as the act of explaining what you experienced, can help you make sense of it. If you can bring someone else from your team, the two of you can usefully compare perspectives throughout the event, and split up at larger conferences to attend two events scheduled at the same time.
Related Blog Posts
- Time to Market: Tips for Strategic Networking
- Getting Oriented to a Subculture or Community of Practice
- Extracting Insights From A Competitor’s Software Demo
- Competitive Intelligence for Bootstrapping Startups
- Customer Development: Scouting A New Market
- Scouting a Promising Market: Sending Spies Into Canaan
- Record to remember, pause to reflect.
Some examples of conference recaps:
- Lean Startup Conference 2013 Roundup
- Lean Startup Conference 2012 Roundup
- Startup Lessons Learned Conference 2011 Coverage Roundup
- Startup Lessons Learned Conference 2010 Coverage Roundup
- DAC 2009 Blog Coverage Roundup