Making the most of conferences (or, how to blow thousands of dollars and waste lots of time and effort for not much return)

Conferences are both a blessing and a curse. I love a good shin-dig as much as the next person, but without some careful planning and quite a bit of work, it’s very easy to not see any benefit at all.

This is quite a big topic, so I’ll cover all the details over four articles. Today – ‘before the conference – personal edition’. Over the next 3 weeks, we will also cover ‘stands and sponsorship’, ‘at the conference’ and ‘post conference follow-up'.

Let’s start at the top, with your business goals.

What are you trying to achieve by attending the conference? (And frankly if you can’t answer that then I hope you didn’t just pay for 3 days accommodation, a return flight and $1200 registration…)

WHY you are going? Is it to hang out with like-minded people and share ideas? To drum up interest in your new product? To see what the competition is doing? To test a new business idea? To ensure your brand (business and/or personal) stays top of mind for your target market? These are all valid reasons, and should be used to drive your approach to the conference, making sure you get out of it what you’re going for.

For instance, if you want to test a new business idea, how are you going to go about doing that? Are you going to have a stand? Or, would you be better off without the stand, but with an ipad and a set of questions set up in Survey Monkey?

Regardless of the reasons for attending the conference, before you go, you will ideally get a delegate list and make contact with the key people you want to speak to at the conference. Be judicious. Even if you’re there for 3 days, what with sessions and organised dinners etc, it can be difficult to organise 20+ coffees (and with that many coffees you’ll lose a lot of networking time to the bathroom!).

I would focus on the top 5 people that you want to meet with and make sure that happens. It helps if you have something interesting to share, such as a new report or white paper, or product development that you’d like feedback on. That way you have a topic of conversation prepared and you’re more likely to get their attention and their limited time. If possible, organise a definite time and place to meet each person. You don’t want to leave anything to chance.

Speaking of time and place, it’s a good idea to read through the conference program and decide which sessions to attend. It’s often the case that there are some sessions that really won’t add value to your particular business (sorry to every conference organiser ever!), and these can be great slots for the business meetings that you want to have.

Once you’ve decided what you want to get out of the conference, figured out which sessions to attend, and organised meetings with the key people, then you are well on your way to having a successful conference and making your marketing dollars work effectively for you.

If you use social media, you might also consider letting your followers know where you are going to be and when. You never know who is waiting for just the right moment to get in touch and start a new conversation.

Personally, I will be attending the SMSF Association Conference in Adelaide next month, so I’ll be spending tomorrow taking my own advice! And of course, if you’re going too and would like to catch up, then please do get in touch.

Next week, we’re going to talk about stands and sponsorship. Got any burning questions? Send them through, we’d love to hear from you.