Conferences can often be expensive and time consuming, with attendance, travel, and lodging fees all adding up to significant cash outlays. But if you do it right, conferences can be a great resource that helps strengthen your overall business, and your bottom line. Here are six great tips to make sure your next conference experience is a worthwhile one for you and your company.

Plan Ahead

Ensure you track the conferences you plan to attend as far out as possible. Sometimes early registration can lead to discounted attendance fees, and booking flights and lodging earlier often saves you money as well. Reviewing the conference schedule can help you determine the best person (or people) from your firm to attend the event; it can also help you determine which sessions are the most important, and the ones that you should skip altogether.

Pay Attention

If you have invested the time and money to attend a conference, ensure that you make the experience worth your while. Resist the siren’s call of surfing the web on your smartphone; pay attention in the sessions you attend. If you have a rare opportunity to listen to an expert speak, take advantage of it and ask a tough question. Collect information from vendors and trade booths set up on the convention floor, and bring it  home with you. Likewise, take copious notes, and share them with colleagues who were not fortunate enough to attend.

Recharge

Conferences can be grueling: tough travel through packed airports; long days of sitting in briefings, not all of which are dynamic; hours of valuable, but taxing interactions with other attendees. Ensure you make time to catch your breath. Try to eat healthy, and attempt to squeeze in a short workout each day if time permits. Take advantage of spa time and other luxuries if they are part of your hotel package. Finally, don’t spend too much time in the bar; have a drink, check your email, and then head up to your room for a good night’s sleep, so you are ready for the next full day.

Build the Network

It is almost cliché, but it is nonetheless true: the relationships you build by attending a conference are more important than anything else that goes on there. Taking the time to get to know people you meet at the event  – vendors, guest speakers, experts, potential customers – can help you build a network that pays dividends in the long term. Ensure that you share contact information with people, and establish linkages by following up with them as soon as the conference is over.

Present

One of the best ways to heighten your company’s profile is to be a formal presenter at the conference. Discussing your products or services, your strategic vision, or your industry practices at a conference can help attendees gain a better understanding of what your company is all about. Alternatively, you could also participate in a panel that discusses key issues in your particular industry, again showcasing your company as a thought leader.

Man the Booth

A conference is a great place to showcase your company’s products and services. Setting a display up on a trade show floor can get you the type of exposure – and leads – you are looking for to make more sales. Ensure you invest significant time and effort into the display to make it interesting, and have an informed, talented spokesperson to represent your company effectively. Make sure that you are prepared to provide follow up contact information to interested attendees, and work hard to collect contact information from visitors at your booth as well.

William Lipovsky owns the personal finance website First Quarter Finance. His most embarrassing moment was telling a Microsoft executive, "I'll just Google it."

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