Learn to Hack Conferences for Growth, 15 Tips from the Pros
Conferences are one of the best ways learn new techniques, network with industry leaders and customers, and showoff your products or services. But, if your goal is to grow your business while at an industry event, follow these 15 tips from the pros.
1. Pre-introduce Yourself
Weeks before the event, “think about the people you would really like to get to know and then carve out time to accomplish that goal.”
– Francesca Gino, professor at Harvard Business School
2. Update Your Online Profiles
“Be prepared to see a spike in profile views after any conference, especially if you have been networking. Make sure your LinkedIn, Twitter or other social media profiles are up-to-date with the kind of information that will connect with key influencers.”
– Janice Dombrowski, Marketing Consultant at Stream Creative
3. Plan Your Delivery
“Planning your delivery is one of the most important things you can do to have a successful conference or trade show presentation. Try to avoid reading straight off of note cards or teleprompter; it is obvious and distracting to the audience and comes off a little lazy.
Memorizing what you plan to say is definitely difficult, though it can certainly be impressive if you can pull it off. Unfortunately, it can also come off very robotic and awkward. The best option is to have a defined set of examples you want to relay to your audience–whether it be to a board room, conference center or passersby at a trade show. Make your language clear and concise, and make it memorable because some of the folks you’re trying to impress are hearing dozens of pitches that day on the trade show floor.”
– John Boitnott, writer at Entrepreneur Media
4. Don’t Sell
“There’s nothing more unappealing than the guy who’s ‘working the room.’ Even though everyone is there to form new relationships, the more overtly you look like a business card slinger, the more you’ll be relegated to the “avoid at all costs” section. In fact, selling at a conference is mostly about asking questions. As a rule, if you’re talking more than 30% of the time, you’re talking too much.
–Brent Beshore, Founder/CEO of adventur.es
5. Stop Multitasking
“In the rush to prep for an event, you probably pushed other work to the backburner. But the world doesn’t stop turning just because you are at an event. Rather than dividing your attention between the event and the office, find a quiet space and dedicate 1-2 hours per day to address any pressing work needs. Then leave those distractions behind and focus on getting the most out of your time there.”
–Jeff Sinclair, Co-Founder of Eventbase
6. Ask Questions in the Sessions You Attend
“Don’t be shy about questioning the speakers about points you’re especially interested in or would like clarified. In fact, you’re actually doing the speakers a favor by asking questions; most speakers dread having disengaged audiences, and there’s nothing worse for a speaker than asking for questions and finding a silent room.”
–Alison Green, author of “How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager.”
7. Just Smile and Say Hi or Hello
According to research, those are the best opening lines. While we wait for the utterly brilliant ice breaker to pop into our brains and then to come out of our mouths, the person we may want to meet has already moved to the opposite side of the room. Depending on your age or crowd, the word ‘hey’ may be the greeting du jour.
–Guy Kawasaki, chief evangelist of Canva and author of “The Art of the Start 2.0.”
8. Master the Deep Bump
“Once you’ve successfully taken your conversation with a new acquaintance down deep, past the shallow small talk, secure an invitation to reconnect later. Then bump! Move on and meet more people. Don’t be like the co-dependent ankle hugger who thinks the first person he meets is his best friend forever.* You’ve invested too much time and money in this conference not to take the opportunity to meet many different people. You have a lifetime to build relationships with people at the conference, but only a few days to meet them.”
–Keith Ferrazzi, Conference Commando
9. Curate and Create Content
“Content Marketing is hotter than ever but sourcing content is probably one of the biggest challenges for companies getting into the content publishing realm. The good news is that events from Twitter chats to webinars to keynote presentations and breakout sessions all provide opportunities to capture, curate and even create content. Some examples include:
- Liveblogging – Transcribe what the speakers say word for word. Listen for key quotes or pieces of information and make a “list post” around a specific topic. Pre-write an article about the session topic and fill in stats and quotes from the speakers.
- Interviews – Reach out to speakers in advance and collect tips from their presentations as a way to help boost attendance to their session. Shoot video interviews of speakers or other smarties at the conference. Record podcast interviews with the same people. Capture single tips on video from a large number of people and compile into one video. Go to exhibitor booths and ask them for a 30 second pitch on video and compile them. Survey attendees on what they like best, tips they’ve heard, etc into a compilation video. With video, you might want to get sign-offs. Also, non-speakers may be reluctant.
- Journal – Keep notes and write a summary of key points from the day and publish like a journal entry. Link to other bloggers that are publishing liveblog posts at the same event.
- Curate – Use a tool like storify to curate the buzz of the conference. You don’t even need to be at the event to do this if a conference hashtag is used consistently.
- Track Your Own Buzz – If you are speaking, make sure someone from your team is tracking mentions of you, your company and topic on social streams like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. Monitor any liveblogging of your presentations as well. Give people an incentive to liveblog your sessions too. If anyone liveblogs one of my presentations, I will send them a copy of Optimize (for example). Curate those mentions into a roundup post on your company newsroom.
Think about how you can leverage your conference experience to create new content for your company blog, articles, or process documentation. Set goals for how many content objects (blog posts, articles, videos, tweets, images) you’ll create each day. Organize what you will capture, with who and with what devices. Plan where you’ll publishing this content and when as well. For curation, compile presentations posted to Slideshare, interviews others have posted to YouTube and liveblog posts covering interesting sessions – then add your own commentary as the icing on the cake.
The content you capture and create can supply a company blog with numerous posts and show clients, staff and prospective clients that you are on top of what’s happening in the industry.”
–Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Online Marketing
10. Have a Signature Style
“I have 21 pairs of orange sneakers and shoes, and I wear one to every conference I speak at or attend. It’s noticeable, it’s memorable, and it’s a often a conversation starter. It was my orange shoes that got the attention of a prominent investor at a conference recently, who ended up funding my new company. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should go out and buy orange sneakers – but you should think about how you can differentiate yourself. Whether it’s a certain color tie you wear, signature earrings, or a blazer – having a signature look will help you stand out from the masses at conferences, meet more people, and be remembered.”
–Dave Kerpen, founder and CEO of Likeable Local and NY Times bestseller
11. Sponsor or Be a Vendor At a Conference
“Most conferences and conventions offer sponsorship packages at varying price levels, and some conferences even offer table space for vendors. If the theme and demographics of the event are a good fit with the target audience for your business, sponsoring and/or vending at a conference can be a great way to introduce your biz to a new group of people!
If you choose to sponsor a conference or have the chance to do a brand activation where you can create a fun activity or experience for attendees, go out of your way to be original and memorable, in a way that makes sense for your brand. For example, at Texas Style Council, Honest Tea had a booth where attendees could create their own buttons. Honest Tea is known for their inspirational quotes on the inside of each of their bottle caps, so they encouraged attendees to draw or write something similarly inspiring and turn it into a circular button that attendees could take home with them. This aligned well with their brand message, and it offered a fun and easy activity for conference attendees.”
–Mallory Whitfield, aka Miss Malaprop and Search Analyst at FSC Interactive
12. Don’t Dismiss People
“Behave like everyone has the potential to get you a cover story at the New York Times. For example, standing in line for one of SXSW’s films, I noticed a guy behind me who had giant forearms. It’s the type of thing I’d notice, so I started talking to him and learned he was a rock climber. It turned out he was [documentary filmmaker] Morgan Spurlock’s brother. Morgan got in line just a bit later, and we talked, and later ended up working together for “A Day in the Life of Tim Ferriss.”
–Tim Ferriss, author of the “4-Hour Workweek”
13. Divide and Conquer
“If you’re attending with coworkers, try and see as much as possible. If each of you attends the same sessions and events, your company might as well have only sent one of you. Splitting up for sessions will maximize how much you’re able to learn and ensure that each of you has unique insights to take back to your company. Plan to get lunch or dinner each day to regroup on key takeaways.
Flying solo also means you’ll each be able to meet more people. Huge conferences can foster pack mentality, but the more attendees you can meet and speak with, the more of an asset you’ll be to your sales team. Discovering how your business fits into the larger industry and how other companies run their sales divisions are invaluable insights. A conference is an unparalleled opportunity to pick the brains of your competition and your market. Don’t waste it.”
–Leslie Ye, writer at HubSpot
14. Share The Highlights With Your Entire Team Back At The Office
“Once you get back to the office, your conference experience is yet not over.
Schedule a lunch-and-learn presentation or set up a brief workshop to share conference highlights and trends with your colleagues. Sharing the new ideas will give you a better chance of successfully implementing any programs within your company that result from the conference. Plus, your supervisor will be more likely to approve funding for your next conference request if you can demonstrate how the entire team benefitted from your experience.”
– Shawne Ungs, Account Supervisor at Karwoski & Courage Public Relations
15. Send Out a Quick Email
“Take your new contact’s email off of that little rectangular piece of paper they gave you and craft them an email. Simply say that you enjoyed meeting them and try to reflect back on a point from the conversation. Something like, ‘It was so nice to meet you at the Chamber of Commerce event last night! Best of luck with your son’s baseball championship this weekend!’ If you’d like to have a follow-up, you can say that as well — just add, ‘We started to talk about the synergies we have in our prospecting and I’d love to continue that conversation. How does your schedule look next Thursday to grab coffee or lunch?’”
It doesn’t have to be long or formal, but you need to move the ball forward.”
–Darrah Brustein, Co-founder of Equitable Payments and founder of Network Under 40