Going to a conference or trade show can be so much fun. It’s an opportunity for new business, networking, and magical food from whatever city you’re visiting.
Though, as with most things in life you really get out what you put into these events as an attendee. As a newbie to the conference circuit you can lose out on valuable time, resources, and opportunities without a game plan.
Here’s my conference blueprint and what you should probably keep in mind when you are going to your 1st or 700th event like this.
The 3 C’s
Everyone benefits from these events. The people who put on the conference capturing cash from everyone. The sales guys (like me) going in to get deals signed and network. The industry knowledge you can leave with. Everyone shouldhave some goal or target to these conferences as well. If you don’t think so and you have a conference coming ask yourself why you’re even going and then I promise you that you’ll realize there is indeed a goal you have for going. With that said, I’ve got 3 C’s that typically make up a conference for most people and it does provide me with some loose direction on ensuring I do benefit from the event.
Community: A conference is an amalgamation of everyone in and around your industry. Thought leaders, your competitors, potential partners, and entrepreneurs just like you. This is an opportunity to network within the industry and get to know the people that are also around either taking business from you, working with you, or influencing how you make money. You want to get to know all three and these events provide the atmosphere for it.
I’ve been in sales for a long time and these events provide a different level of social interaction that almost forces everyone to be a bit more receptive to all types of discussions. It’s an event away from the day to day grind meaning there aren’t any distractions. This is also a good reminder that while you’re at an event the community sees you as well so you’re building your personal and company brand at all the events you’re going to. I try to make sure I attend the conference networking parties and meet at least 6 new people. That’s a pretty conservative number if you’re setting up meetings before hand and are pretty social. If you get anxiety just thinking about that then start the number lower.
Closing: I had to make sure it went with the ‘C’ theme but really this is just a reminder to move your business forward not necessarily signing a new contract on the spot. If you are going to a conference then in some way you’re making money in the industry. That means that there are potential leads and partners at the event that you want to talk to. Closing in this case could be meeting a new partner that could help your business or expand your reach. It could mean a great meeting with a potential decision maker. This is the “C” that is purely for the self-serving business part of your event — how are you moving business forward at this event?
Communication: This one is an extension of closing and community, but definitely deserves its own “C.” These events are excellent opportunities to practice how you explain what your brand is all about. It’s an excellent opportunity to practice how you listen and understand what others do. It’s a real life training ground on how to talk to people that you can use every where else in your personal and professional life.
I’ve personally used this “C” to get candid feedback on launching products, how a particular pitch sounds, and to train other sales reps on how to drill down to a real need by asking the right follow up questions (I.E. ACTIVE LISTENING). This “C” is the personal reminder to learn at least 3 new nuggets about the industry and to learn something about what or how I pitch.
The Trade Show Sandwich
No. You don’t eat trade show specific sandwiches. This is to remind myself that there are 3 important parts to the shows and conferences — The Pre Show, The Show, and The Post Show. This part of the planning and doing is what really makes a conference worth it.
The Pre Show: The prep before a show can ease your stress and exponentially bump up the success of your conference. This is where I will identify who I really want to meet with, start sending out emails to current and new clients, and schedule meetings. A few weeks before the conference you’ll have a schedule so get an idea of what sessions you also want to go to and learn from.
I will always have a document of the people I have meetings with, a shared calendar, and notes on each meeting accessible to me at all time. It saves some awkward interactions of what you’re meeting about.
The Show: Where the rubber hits the road. The nonstop action of going to educational sessions with speakers and networking. I will have meetings set and also sessions that I’ll want to make sure I attend. I will also leave openings in the calendar for breaks, impromptu meetings, and dinners.
For breaks, I’ll sometimes go back to the hotel room if the conference is in a hotel for a quick refresh, drop off business cards, and keep it going. If I’m away from where I’m staying I keep all of that in a backpack or a coat pocket then just unload before the dinner events.
This is also where I will make sure to get cell phone numbers since it’s much easier to communicate.
The Post Show: This is when you arrive back home. This one won’t be too tough since you’ve been following up the whole time. If you haven’t then here’s where you do that. When you return home make sure you follow up with everyone you talked with and got a business card from. If you’ve got contact information from them, save them somewhere and make sure they see some type of ‘thank you’ correspondence from you. If it’s a potential client try to get a meeting. A partner? try to get a meeting. Someone you can’t work with right now? Shoot them an email and let them know when the timing is right you can have another conversation.
This is also where I’ll pick and choose my hand written cards. The Post Show is all about standing out since everyone is going to be sending follow up emails and texts so you better be memorable. On a personal level check yourself on the 3 C’s and identify what needs to change before the next conference.
Just remember the why!
You are going to a conference to invest in your community, your business, and yourself. If you keep those 3 things in mind (the C’s help) and walk in with a plan then you’re going to be successful whether you are a newbie to conferences or you are a seasoned vet.