Friday, September 18, 2009

How To Attend A Conference

Industry conferences and shows are excellent opportunities to pick up new ideas, to source new products, to motivate yourself, to recharge your batteries, and to have a good time. Most people, however, fail to maximize their opportunities. Here are 10 ways to get more out of your next show...

1. Plan

If seminars are concurrent, identify the seminars you most want to attend in advance. Depending on how seminars repeat, it may take a little juggling to hit the sessions you want to attend the most.

People usually choose seminars based on the topic or the speaker. Some topics address an issue you are facing or interested in. Some speakers are so good and/or knowledgeable that any session they lead is worth attending.

If two or more people from your company are attending, divide the seminars so you can cover as many as possible.

If a show accompanies the seminars, identify the vendors you want to visit in advance. Do not simply stop by the companies you're already familiar with. Try to visit new companies with new products and services.

After visiting the booths on your list, take time to walk the show floor. Be methodical, taking it aisle by aisle. You never know what you might find, which is the whole purpose for being there.

Often, vendors hold special sales for shows. Come prepared to act and you can save yourself quite a bit of money.

2. Walk Out of Bad Seminars

I know this sounds rude, but don't be afraid of walking out of a seminar if the topic isn't what you expected or need, or if the speaker is poor. You're paying too much money to attend the conference to sit through a bad seminar.

If you feel the need to leave, do so quickly and as unobtrusively as possible.

3. Adjust the Plan

In between seminar sessions ask others what sessions they attended, what was covered, and how well they liked them. Ask about the show. What was new and exciting. Based on the feedback you receive, don't be afraid to change your priorities.

4. Take Lots of Notes

There's so much information flying around conferences that it's easy to forget great ideas. One approach is to use 3X5 or 4X6 cards. The smaller size makes them easy to stick in your back pocket (lots of ideas get kicked around at hospitality rooms in the evenings). Try to limit yourself to one idea per card. I'll why explain later.

5. Don't Eat Alone

At lunch, sit down with people you don't know. Introduce yourself. Try to ask three or more questions of everyone at the table. You never know who you might meet and what you might learn.

Ask someone to join you for dinner. It's another opportunity to network and pick the brains of your peers. Don't eat alone.

6. Attend the Hospitality Functions

Some of the best educational opportunities arise during vendor hospitality functions. Be alert for new ideas, for new connections, and for people who have faced similar problems to those you face, but who have overcome them.

7. Limit the Alcohol

Have fun, but not in excess. You're attending the conference to learn. Don't drink so much that you have trouble getting up for the 8:00 a.m. seminar the next morning.

8. Don't Forget Business Cards

Duh. For multi-day conferences, put your business cards behind your name badge. That lessens the potential that you'll leave all of your cards in your room since most conferences practically mandate the continual use of your conference name badge. This is also a good place to stuff drink or meal tickets if they're included in your conference registration.

9. Recap Daily

Before going out to eat, take a few minutes to jot down additional notes and to adjust your plan for the following day, if necessary.

10. Debrief & Prioritize

At the end of the conference, spend an hour or so with everyone from your company who attended the show. Capture any new ideas on 4X6 cards. As a group, take your 4X6 cards and sort through them. Find the ONE idea you want to attack first. Then select the second and third. Work on the top priority before anything else. Next, tackle the number two priority.

Absent a method of priortization, the tendency is to get home and be so overwhelmed by all of the information that you do nothing OR to try and do everything at once so that you accomplish nothing.

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