Are you heading to a small business conference this upcoming fall or winter? Here are 11 strategies for making sure you get the most out of it.
1. Study the conference agenda. Almost all business conferences publish the agenda ahead of time. Download the agenda from the conference website and get familiar with the workshops, panels, and speakers scheduled for each day.
If you’ve attended the conference before, you’ll probably already have a good sense of which activities are a “must” and/or will be quickly sold out or filled to capacity. If you haven’t attended before, reach out to people you know to see if they’ve attended and what workshops and panels that they recommend. Turn to industry contacts, employees, vendors, and connections on LinkedIn.
2. Create a plan of attack. Once you’ve identified the events you want to attend, create a plan of attack. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to attend everything—there will be scheduling conflicts and certain events will fill up faster. So as you make your plan, include your first choices and second choices so that you always have a backup.
Once you have a schedule, add the details to your phone’s calendar. Include the details on any calendars your employees have access to as well so that they’ll know when you’re reachable while you’re away.
3. Get a feel for the location. Conferences, especially big ones, will also publish a map. Once you have your agenda, highlight the places you’ll need to be on the map. Be mindful of “walking time” in case you have back-to-back events that are on opposite ends of the building. Note where the different restrooms are as well.
If you live locally and you plan to drive in each day, consider making a dry run so that you know exactly where you’re going, where the parking garage is, etc.
4. If you’re going to have a booth, be prepared. Make sure everyone involved has a schedule and that your booth always has someone covering it during high-traffic times. Make sure you’re stocked up on product literature. And don’t forget about promotional swag to give away.
5. Be realistic with your time. Business conferences can be equal parts exhilarating and exhausting. It’s important to have some downtime in your schedule, even if it’s just a half hour so you can go back to your hotel room and put your feet up for a few minutes. Be sure you carve out blocks for eating, too. And you’ll want to leave time for one-to-one meetings with people you meet. Remember, it’s all about networking.
6. Dress for success…and comfort. Business casual is the accepted “uniform” for most business conferences. If you’re unsure about the dress code, however, check out the conference website and look at photos from previous years to get a sense of what most people wear.
Dressing in layers is always smart, since different rooms might have different temperature gauges. Always consult the weather for the city the conference is in to get a sense of outerwear you might need (e.g. snow boots).
Comfortable shoes always make sense. Now is not the time to try those never-been-worn high heels or new dress shoes that pinch your toes. You’ll be on your feet a lot, and depending on how big the conference center is and where your hotel is located, you’ll be doing a lot of walking.
Of course, wearing promotional apparel that advertises your company name—such as jackets, polo shirts, and dress shirts—is always smart and helps people recognize and remember you.
7. Consider the equipment you’ll need. Laptop, tablet, or legal pad? Do you have your phone charger? Don’t forget a reusable water bottle! And make sure you have a custom bag that helps you carry everything.
8. Practice your story. If you’re a regular networker, you probably have perfected your elevator pitch, but if you haven’t attended any events in a while, you might be a little rusty. Practice your pitch, and not just in front of the mirror. Practice in front of people you trust at work and at home.
Brevity is key. People can’t take in a ton of information, especially in noisy environments. Keep your pitch focused to one thing and explain it simply and clearly:
- My name is Bob and my company helps small business owners with their marketing.
- My name is Jane. I’m a freelance writer who specializes in b2b content marketing.
- My name is Ed, and I build people’s dream homes.
- My name is Wendy, and I help people with challenging credit get mortgages.
9. Allow yourself to skip something if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Don’t be afraid to take a break if you’re feeling overly stressed. There will always be another business conference, another workshop, another panel. It’s not the end of the world if you go back to your room and take a nap.
That said, don’t give in to laziness, either. If you simply don’t “feel” like attending another panel or workshop, this is the time to push yourself.
10. If possible, work in a day or two of downtime after the conference. Attending a three- or four-day business conference and diving right back into work can wreak havoc on you physically and mentally. You need time to digest everything you learned, to unwind, and to recharge. If possible, work in a couple days off after the conference and before you head back to the office.
11. Create a post-mortem plan of attack. Once you return to work, you need to sit down and review everything you learned, all the connections you made, and next steps. Your conference experience shouldn’t live in a vacuum. The best conferences should inspire you to take action:
- Maybe you learned about some interesting marketing strategies. Get together with your marketing team, share the info, and make a plan for implementing those strategies.
- Maybe you met someone who would be a great addition to your local networking group. Call the person and set up a lunch date to discuss.
- Maybe you met someone who was interested in doing business with you. Strike while the iron is hot and follow up.
How do you rock small business conferences? Share your tips and strategies in the comments below.