Getting The Most From a Conference

By Bill Kennedy - Whether you're an attendee or a presenter, here are some tips to help you get more out of a trade show or conference.

Attendee

  • Get it in your calendar! I don't know how many times I've said, "Oh yeah, I meant to get to that" when a friend has mentioned going to a show.
  • Decide ahead which booths / presentations you want to see. It will help you focus on what's important.
  • Stay away from the beer nuts. [Inserted by my editor/wife.]
  • Go with an open mind. Sometimes the banner across the booth is just what the company is promoting now. If you talk to them about what you need, you may find that they have something to offer you.
  • Don't worry about giving out your card. The worst that can happen is that you have to say no to a follow up phone call or unsubscribe to unwanted email. Networking is more of an art than a science. There is no way of knowing who is in a position to help you, but I can guarantee that if you never give out your card, you will miss important opportunities.
  • Talk to other attendees. By definition, you have a common interest. Use the opportunity to make a few contacts. If there is a reception or meal, I look for the people on the edge of the group or sitting by themselves. They usually welcome some company.
  • Get the presentation notes electronically. If I'm handed a big binder full of material, it ends up on a shelf and will eventually migrate to the recycle bin. If I have the material in a pdf file, I'm more likely to find it when I need it.
  • Be an active listener. It REALLY helps the presenter if you nod your head (I don't mean the sleepy kind of nod) occasionally to show that you are following along. Feel free to ask questions and participate. Everyone will get more out of it.

When you get back to the Office

  • Sort through the business cards you received. Enter any new contacts into your contact software (even if it's only Outlook, you DO have contact software, right?)
  • Send an email to your new contacts so they don't forget you. If you can send the answer to a question they asked or point them to a web site they'd be interested in, so much the better.
  • If you received any material of interest to co-workers, send them a copy! That way your company gets a lot more bang for their money.
  • A consulting firm I worked for had the rule that anyone who went to a conference had to do a presentation at the next company meeting. It was a good rule.

Presenter

  • Many of us are technical experts in our field, but not seasoned presenters. At the very least, practice your presentation in front of a critical audience.
  • Don't believe them when the event organizer says that you will have access to high speed internet. Really. This is from experience. Make sure you have a local or cached copy of everything you want from the web.
  • Dress for success. [Inserted by my wife/editor.]
  • Give out your card and collect as many cards from your audience as you can. Act on these contacts while they're still warm, even if it's just to tell them where they can get an electronic version of your presentation.
  • Get multiple uses from your material. You put so much effort into creating it. Try reformatting it into an article for a magazine that serves your industry. If you then reprint it after it's published, it can be a powerful marketing message for your customers.
  • Don't cram your time too full of material. There is only so much that an audience can absorb in an hour. Limit yourself to three key points, but make sure you give your audience a way to find out more (i.e. your web site or contacting you).
  • Be interactive. Ask your audience a few questions. Try to find out where their interest lies. Ask them questions, e.g. Have any of you faced this situation before?

When you get back to the office

[See above!]
At the end of the day, conferences are all about relationships, oh and maybe a little learning as well.

This blog

by Bill Kennedy, CA.IT, PMP - With over 25 years of accounting experience, Bill has a varied background in accounting management and accounting systems implementation, with a focus on the charitable sector. He is also an experienced volunteer board member and fundraiser.

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