Pick your business conference opportunities carefully, then make a plan to get the most out of your attendance.
Last year was a very busy one for us all, and now it is time to dive into 2017—discovering new ideas and improved strategies and identifying prospective business opportunities. One way to take advantage of these opportunities is through professional business conferences. While these events may seem like a chance to take a step away from the office and spend time with friends and colleagues, it also offers a process for networking with other professionals, getting up to speed on current business trends and planning how to build a bigger book of business.
Finding the right balance between office work and attending the meetings that matter to your business is key. With so many conference opportunities to choose from, and only so many you can attend, it is essential to get the most out of every conference that you do attend or sponsor.
With the election over and new administration coming into the White House, changes in the business climate will be happening quickly. There will be new markets and new opportunities, along with the challenges of competing with existing—as well as emerging—competition.
What will you do to make your business stand out? Professional conferences are a way to get a step up on your competition and discover new ideas and strategies for growing your business.
Here are some of the ways you can get the most out of attending business conferences in 2017.
Identify the Value of Each Conference
There will be many panels and lectures to choose from this year. Identifying and committing to the ones that will provide the most benefit is key to growing your business. Before allocating hundreds of dollars and booking flights, carefully examine the schedule of the conference to ensure it aligns with your business goals. Review the list of presenters and their background for the information they are providing. Look at the length of time allocated for each topic of interest, and if the presenter will be made available for Q & A.
Often, a business conference can provide the best opportunity to find new clients or future business partners. Find out the keynote speakers and who will be attending. Most events will be promoted on social media or the sponsor’s website, providing a good representation of the type of people who plan on attending. Recognize the networking value of each conference, and determine how networking with other attendees—whether competition or peers—can benefit your long-term business strategy.
Prepare Yourself for the Conference
By the time a conference approaches, you should have a good idea of the types of topics that will be discussed. Coming up with a well-formulated plan will better prepare you to benefit from the information provided. If you don’t do proper planning beforehand, you may end up writing it off as an overall loss. Set a goal and do your best to make it happen. How many new clients do you expect to walk away with?
Before the conference, familiarize yourself with the panels and speakers who have confirmed participation. Review the agenda. Note the key addresses that you want to attend and make sure you take notes on how this could apply to your business. Draw up a list of important points you want to focus on, and the types of questions you would like to see answered at the conference. If you are attending an online conference, keep a list of questions to ask at the appropriate time. Research other professionals who will be attending and make a note of those you would like to meet and interact with at the event or in the future.
Technology is playing a bigger role in today’s business conference scene. Many conference providers are using web applications like Whova, Skype and GoToMeeting to provide up-to-date information and reach a larger audience via live streaming. For instance, with the Whova app, attendees can get pre-event information, confirm presentations, get updates on program changes or announcements and offer a personalized approach for participants to interact directly with the speakers and other attendees. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the technology that will be made available, and use it to your advantage during the conference.
Getting prepared for the conference with the right equipment is imperative. If it’s important, you’ll have your laptop or tablet, so ensure you pack your charger cables or extra batteries. If you are planning on pitching clients or networking with business professionals, be sure to bring plenty of business cards and any other brochures/material you wish to distribute. Be ready to provide service or product demonstrations on the spot, as you may have an opportunity to turn prospective clients into actual clients at the conference.
Attending the Conference
On the day of the conference, plan to make a walk-through of the facilities so that you may familiarize yourself with the surroundings and amenities being offered. Some sponsors of larger conferences will provide a map of the conference location on their event app. If there is a registration requirement, make sure you register early to avoid the rush. While everyone else is stuck in line, you can spend some quality time with colleagues or network with prospects.
If there are multiple sessions at the conference you are attending, make a plan to focus on the panels that have the most influence on your business. Communicate with peers who are attending the same sessions to get varying views on the information being presented. Make notes of the information provided and follow up on your concerns or questions with the speakers or conference sponsors.
While in attendance, prioritize the sessions you will be attending and determine how you can use them to further your business. This outline will allow you to maximize the amount of information you will be able to learn and retain. Actively participate in the conference through question-and-answer sessions by using the event app or Twitter hashtag to communicate with peers. Through involvement in the larger conversation, you can get additional exposure to prospective clients and have a platform to provide your personal views and insights.
After the Conference
A conference is only as worthwhile as the information and contacts you come away with. Outline the information you received and emphasize what you found most beneficial. Be sure to follow up on the most important points with the conference organizers and see how they can assist. Check back with the event app or conference sponsor to see if you can obtain a transcript of the conference or additional information about the subject matter; typically, most presenters will want you to have a copy of their PowerPoint presentation.
Face-to-face meetings are an excellent way to personalize your relationship with clients. However, just because you exchanged business cards does not mean a prospect or potential business partner will call you. Make a list of the contacts you made in the order of importance that they hold to your company. Make an intentional effort to reach out to each person, shortly after you return to the office. Prepare a good initial email or letter as a professional introduction to your company and the products or services you provide. Remember, personal touches are key. Make sure to include why you had the pleasure of meeting them and how the two of you can benefit one another.
Practice What You Have Learned
Whether a company is large or small, marketing will always play a role in its success. A marketing campaign can take many forms. There is word of mouth, social media marketing (SMM), search engine marketing (SEM), internet marketing, or business-to-business networking. Professional business conferences can also play a significant role in providing the information, training and legal guidance for presenting your message better to clients and prospects.
Use what you’ve learned at your conferences and make a plan to implement it into your marketing campaigns. Take the incredibly valuable insights you’ve discovered and determine how to best incorporate them into your business model. Record and share what you’ve learned with co-workers and management. Have a discussion on how you can use the information to your advantage.
Whether you plan on attending one or a dozen conferences this new year, the most valuable advice you can get about conferences is: Do more than simply attend, and make sure you have a plan in place.
Ruby Key’s article originally appeared in Private Lender magazine: January/February 2017