How to Get the Most Out of a Conference? | RefinerLink

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How to Get the Most Out of a Conference?

By Euro Petroleum Consultants

Aug 24, 2013

People tend to underestimate the added value conferences bring to a business – learn 9 tips to get the most out of your next industry gathering.         


Attending a conference is a great chance to get new contacts and expand your professional network.   One can also learn about the latest trends and news and catch up with industry peers. A lot of people tend to underestimate the added value conferences bring to a business, and this is mostly because very often conference attendees perceive this task as just a chance to escape from the office for couple of days.


Sending someone to attend a conference however is related to an investment from the company – time of the employee and money for travelling and attendance fee. That’s why we should make sure we get the most benefits for the company and for ourselves out of each conference we get to attend. Below are some simple rules and tips on how to do that:


1.    Take notes and re-read them after certain time

Some presentations are long and some speakers are not as charismatic to draw your attention directly to the point as others. That’s why when

you take notes, always put on paper only the one thing that really struck you in a presentation, the one thing that you learned, or the one thing that inspired a new idea. This will help you focus your brain on this one thing that is really important and useful.

Keep your notes and re-read them after 6 months or a year. You will be surprised how something that didn’t sound so intriguing to you 6 months ago can inspire you for new ideas & projects when you come back to it later.



2.    Use Social Media


The best way to get some pre-conference networking and introduce yourself in advance to attendees of interest is to contact them via Linked In or another appropriate social media. The conference gives you a great ice-breaking line to start the conversation with and pre-conference networking is a great way to be ahead of competitors who would go there trying to meet the same potential clients.


In addition to that, as most conferences have their groups in LinkedIn, this would give you the opportunity to start some discussions with fellow delegates on topics that the conference will cover later on and see what they think about it. You can also suggest discussion topics to be covered at the very conference.


Being active online facilitates your networking during the event as a lot of the attendees will recognize your name and/or face from the virtual discussions you’ve had.


Come back to those groups and discussions after the event to check and eventually contact people that you couldn’t meet at the event. Use the conference as an excuse to introduce yourself and say it is a pity you couldn’t meet at the event, but perhaps you can schedule another meeting to introduce your company and products/services.


Last, but not least, don’t forget to ask people what was their impression of the event and if it met their expectations. This will give you the answer of whether you should attend this event again and will also give you useful insights and help when you prepare yourself for future events that you plan to attend (especially if you are planning being a speaker or panelist).



3.    Networking vs. Following the Agenda


Is it better to cut short an informal chat with a potential partner in order to make it to the next session? Should you arrange meetings at lunch time and risk missing the afternoon sessions? Is that guy staying alone at the coffee line the VP of the client you’ve been trying to get in contact with for the past 6 months without success?


There is no universal rule for whether you should stick to the agenda or go for the extra networking. Of course you can learn a lot while attending the sessions and get inspired by the speeches and panel discussions, but a conference is also all about networking, so you should make sure not to come back without making some key contacts.

Follow your instincts and never cut shot a talk with a potential client just to be able to make it back to the conference on time, because you might not get the chance to speak to this person again. At the same time use the conference timing as an excuse to stop a talk with people who are not of your interest and take your time for useless small talks instead of letting you network with the people you can really benefit from.



4.    How to get the hard-to-get

At every conference there are 2 or 3 really important people that everybody is trying to meet. It is a great challenge to try to get them as there is always a queue of people waiting for them after the end of each session, a crowd chasing them down the hall all the way to the rest rooms and of course everybody is trying to sit next to them at lunch or during the coffee breaks. These people know that they are attracting a lot of interest and they try to avoid enthusiastic potential suppliers who are trying to talk to them and “sell” them something.


The first rule when you try meet such a person is not be part of the queue waiting for them and following them everywhere. They notice with the corner of their eye who is trying to get them and make sure to avoid these people during the entire event. Moreover, they should remember you and not think of you as just someone from the crowd of annoying sellers.


In order to perceive you as someone they can talk to, you should act like you are as important as them and also trying to escape from the crowd. Follow where they go and what they do without them noticing you, act casual, try to foresee their moves – when they are just about to go to the coffee station try to be the person queuing just before them. Start the chat informally as if you didn’t try to talk to them all day.


Many people make the mistake to start very officially and directly begin talking about their company, what they do, what they can offer them. This “scares” the person in front and the first thought in their mind is how to cut the talk short and escape. Instead, make a friendly comment about the coffee, the weather or the conference organization, act casually as if you are only talking to him out of politeness and have nothing really important to say. This will make the person in front feel “safe” and open up to a small talk. Once they do that, give them your business card and introduce yourself, again as if you are doing it out of politeness. Act a bit surprised when they introduce themselves back and never let it show that you were trying to get to speak to them. You can make some kind of small compliment or comment about their company or a latest project of theirs and slowly draw the conversation to business.



5.    Pile of Business Cards and Who was Who?


After each conference we find ourselves with hundreds of business cards and very little memory of who was who, which person you meant to follow up with or to introduce to your colleague responsible for this market, but  


most of all with very little time to store them. 

In order to avoid this situation, and to make sure you will make the most out of each contact, you should store your business cards in different pockets or different compartments separating by those 

who you should really follow up with, those who would be useful for a colleague or for the future and those who are not really of interest. 

Take time during the breakfast or during a session that is not too interesting for you to write down your intention on the business cards you gathered before you forget the people and what you have discussed together.



6.    Invite Key Clients


Every conference is a way of exposure for your company and as such it should be communicated to your clients and key partners. Whether you are sponsoring, exhibiting or just attending the event make sure that this goes on your corporate website, that you mention this to key clients and ideally that you invite them to join the conference with you.


Many event organizers will agree to provide you with special rates for each additional client you manage to get for their conference and some of them may even provide you with a complimentary delegate place if you manage to bring someone really important. This makes very good impression on your clients and most of them would be happy to join you at the event, which is an excellent opportunity for you to have more time to discuss business, to see their points of view on different industry topics and in general to get to know them better in either formal and informal environment.


If possible, you can also consider your company covering the costs of a very important client to attend the conference. The return on this investment will come very soon and you and your boss will not regret the extra budget spent.



7.    Mingle with the Competition


If time and situations allow, don’t be afraid to mingle and enter in discussions or informal talks with representatives of the competition. When you are in a group with other people this will give you insights on their networking skills and ideally of their approach to clients. Observing that is always useful and you would be surprised of all the ideas that you will come up for yourself and your own approach towards clients during conference networking.



8.    Don’t miss any social activity or function


Social activities are meant to facilitate and encourage networking and are the best and most fun part of every conference. Before you go to a gala dinner or a safari, make sure you are dressed appropriately. If no dress code is mentioned in the invitation, ask the organisers about it, so that you don’t end up dressed for the safari at the official gala dinner.

At the social activities don’t be afraid to start a chat with anyone. Having some fun together and getting to know each other outside of the conference room is a great foundation for any business relationship, so you should explore and meet as many people as you can. Don’t forget to bring a lot of business cards, but hand them out only if it is appropriate.



9.    If you are satisfied with an event – let people know


Sending someone to attend a conference is an investment that the company does in order to bring in knowledge, to benefit from networking, but also to motivate the person who was chosen to attend. If your boss decided that you should be the person to represent the company at this event it means that they trust you for that and believe in your future in the company.


That’s why if you think the conference was worthwhile, let them know they took the right decision and the money spent was not in vain. Write a short e-mail/report to say what were the benefits of attending the conference – what did you learn, who did you meet and how you are going to follow up on that.


If appropriate, propose your boss to make a presentation to the team with some key highlights from the conference – main learnings, new technologies, approaches, anything else that might be useful. If you do that, keep it short and informative.


Last, but not least - organizing an event involves a lot of hard work, so if you are satisfied with the quality, let the organizers know about it. Write them a quick thank you note or post a brief testimonial on the LinkedIn wall of the event. They will appreciate that and may consider inviting you to speak or moderate a session for the next event.


And remember, every conference is a great opportunity for meeting people, networking and getting insights about the market and region you are in, however as every opportunity it only pays off if you invest the needed time and energy in it, if you use it wisely and strive to make the most out of it.


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