Seven Ways to Get The Most Out of Industry Events

Erika Goldwater’s post earlier this week got me thinking about events, that love-it-or-hate-it way that so many of us choose to network with colleagues and peers, learn about industry trends and best practices, generate leads for our business or build our brand presence. I have attended more than my share of marketing events, in almost any capacity you can imagine — hosting user group meetings or industry breakfasts, running high-level sponsorships at large technology conferences, or speaking at events of varying size. The time I feel most ill at ease, though, is when I am simply attending an event — and I don’t think I am alone.

Getting the most out of an event is a learned skill and takes preparation and effort. I polled the team and came up with this list of ways to get the most out of the next conference you attend.

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Plan the sessions you will attend in advance … and then actually go to them-

There is nothing worse than trying to get into a session you are interested in only to find that the room is full. If you have the option build your schedule online and reserve space in the sessions you want to attend, then do it! As I found out at Dreamforce last year, the sessions that look good to you probably look good to other people as well and might fill up. Also, don’t forget the reason you are there. While it might be tempting to grab a cup of coffee or catch up on email, you’ll miss the boat if you skip the content. I’m not saying you should indulge fools … if a session doesn’t live up to your expectations then leave it and find something else, maybe something outside of your comfort zone. One thing that you don’t know is what you don’t know, and events are often a great place to discover new and interesting trends and practices.

Use Twitter as your event curator –

Even if you are not active on the social network, there is so much rich content streaming live from the floor of your event you would be a fool not to check it out. Monitor the event on your social media platform of choice, or simply go to Twitter search and type in the event hashtag. The greatest hits of the conference will unspool in front of you, and you will likely see a few people worth connecting with in the process. Couldn’t attend that one session you were interested in because of a conflict? Check the Twitter stream for quotable quotes and discover things to approach the speaker about later at the show.

Identify and understand the vendor landscape-

The exhibit hall can be overwhelming, depending on the size of the event. Planning out the vendors you want to connect with in advance can help save you from wandering around the room, being accosted by costumed mascots, jostled by swag collectors or scanned by overzealous event temps with a quota. Most of those folks are not a fit for you. Save time (and avoid the post-event email avalanche) by doing a little pre-event research on whose solutions or services might solve some of your pains or serve your priorities.

Connect with the speakers you want to meet in advance-

Is there a speaker you want to meet? Connect with them on LinkedIn in advance of the show. The whole reason they are at the event is to talk shop and make connections, and most of the time they are probably going to be open to grabbing a cup of coffee or cocktail at the reception. Book them while you can.

Talk to strangers-

Are you there with a few work colleagues? Awesome! Now ditch them and hook up later at the event party. You already know how they do things. Go take the last seat at that table where those other people are talking and check it out. Build your network and meet some new people. Find out what they are there for and what sessions they attended. Get recommendations on where to go tomorrow, and what speakers you need to see.

Set up meetings for while you are there-

Everyone needs a break. Events offer a great opportunity to connect with customers, partners, prospects and influencers. Find out who is going to be there, and take advantage of your proximity to meet with them face-to-face. Nothing is better than an in-person meeting, and if you can connect with a few of your vendors or customers while you are there it is worth the price of the ticket.

Don’t go if you can’t be present-

Have you ever looked into the lounge at an event and seen the sea of people with their headphones on, working away on their laptops while the event is happening all around them? I’m not talking about the woman who stepped away for a half hour for a conference call…I’m talking about the guy that never leaves the proximity of the lone electrical outlet in the main event hallway for the duration of the conference. Don’t be that guy. Don’t waste the money it cost to get you to the event in the first place. Trust me when I say that you are never as smart as you think you are, and there is always something to be learned if you are present in the moment and paying attention. Love them or hate them – there is a lot more to be gained from industry events than just a few business cards.

Author: Jason Stewart @jstewart_1 is Vice President, Demand Generation for ANNUITAS

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