The IWTO Congress 2017 is only a few days away and like many others, I am scheduled to take part in the conference. As it is the first time I am not organising the event but attending as a delegate, I wanted to make sure I am well prepared to get the most out of the three-day event.
To be honest, attending such a big conference is an investment for any business in regards to time, travel and accommodation expenses and of course the registration fee. I do see it as an investment and not an expense because the conference offers many business and networking opportunities.
However, to be able to seize these opportunities it is important to prepare accordingly. In this blog post, I share a few tips on how to get the best return on investment out of your next conference or event participation.
Preparation is key
Like with almost anything in life, it pays off to prepare yourself ahead of time before the conference starts with these little tips.
Get your business cards in good shape
Review your existing business cards. Are they still up to date? Do you still have enough? If some of your details have changed, don’t be cheap and write your new details on them, just get new ones printed. That will make a better first impression. Allow enough time for the printing and delivery. And of course, don’t forget to pack them into your suitcase!
Study the conference programme and participant list
Typically the conference organisers provide you with a conference programme and participant list before the event in digital format. It may also be available on the conference website. Study the programme carefully and decide which sessions are of interest to you. Create your own schedule for the event so that you know when you have time for meetings and when you will be inside the conference room. Also, study the participant list and take note of all the people you wish to meet during the event.
Write down your goals
A conference is always a very busy time and you can get easily sidetracked. To stay focussed it is important to write down your goals. What do you wish to achieve from the event? Which people do you want to meet? Whom do you wish to finalise a business deal with? What kind of topics do you want to learn something about? Writing down your goals also makes it also easier to evaluate later on if it was worth your while to attend the event.
Make appointments beforehand
Based on the participant list, the programme and your goals you can then reach out before the conference to arrange meetings with the people you would like to meet up with. Don’t leave everything up to chance that you will just bump into each other as that might not happen.
Inform yourself about dress code
Last but not least it is time to pack your suitcase. Ask the event organisers about the dress code of the event. This will ensure that you feel comfortable during the event and can concentrate on your networking.
While you are at the conference
You made it to the conference in time and are ready to network with the following tips.
Introduce yourself to organisers
If you are new to an event or industry, you may not know anybody yet. A good way to get started at an event is to introduce yourself to the event organisers. They will be happy to put a face to your name. But most importantly they will be able to introduce you to any of the other delegates. You can let them know if you wish to meet any particular attendees or people from a particular field and they will be happy to introduce you. Some events offer activities for new attendees, make sure you take part as it will speed things up for you.
Don’t hang out only with people you know
If you are a regular participant of a certain event, it is, of course, great to see all your friends again and hang out with them. Or maybe you are attending the event with your work colleagues. While it feels safe to stay in their company it will be more difficult for you to meet new people. Hanging out in a group that knows each other also makes it more difficult for other’s to introduce themselves to you. Balance the time where you hang out with your colleagues and friends and where you meet new people.
Make use of the event’s mobile app
Most conferences nowadays have an event mobile app. Through the event app, you can view the event schedule, check out speakers, post images and comments and connect with other attendees. Most apps have in-app messaging where you can send a direct message to any of the other attendees. This is a very useful tool to set up meetings with other delegates. Make sure you upload your photo so that other people can easily connect your face to your name in case they are searching for you.
Forget about your job at home and focus on the conference
We are all very busy in our everyday lives. Even though you are at a three-day conference, your workload remains, your emails continue to pour in and you most probably have a few work deadlines hanging over you. Typically we then try to work and answer emails during the conference. We have our laptop open during the speaker sessions pretending to be listening with one ear and during the coffee break we sneak up to our room to do a few phone calls. This is where you will not get a good return of investment on the conference. You will miss good ideas presented to you by the speakers and you will miss even more networking opportunities. Make arrangements beforehand that will enable you to stay fully focussed on the conference, it will benefit you and your business much more than the work waiting at home.
Book a dinner table
Some conferences don’t offer an evening programme every night which means you need to organise your own dinner and evening plans. Often the conference organisers will provide you with some restaurant recommendations. Book a restaurant table for 6 to 10 people ahead of time. During the conference day, whenever you meet new people you can let them know that you and a bunch of other people will head out for dinner and if they would like to join you. Many people will appreciate the offer and you are all set up for a lovely networking evening. If you don’t want to book a table you can just let people know that you will all meet at a certain time in the hotel lobby and then head out together to find a restaurant.
Work the bar
While networking during coffee breaks and lunches is super valuable, you do not want to miss out on the networking time in the hotel bar. If there is not one central hotel during the conference, try to find out from the organisers where everybody will head out for a drink in the evenings. There is no need to get drunk or go crazy, but mingling with other attendees in the bar will do wonders for your network and business. However, no matter how long the night was, make sure to turn up to the conference the next day, you can sleep on your flight back home.
Collect business cards
Many people focus on handing out their business cards to as many people as possible. However, it is more important to collect other people’s business cards because then you can do a follow-up and don’t have to wait for the other person to contact you. Make sure you only follow up with people with whom you had a true conversation that you can refer to.
Remind yourself of your goals
To stay focused, look at your goals every day of the conference. For some reason, our minds tend to be very forgetful and reviewing our goals daily will make sure we stay on track.
Once you are back home there are a few steps to complete your conference experience.
Connect on LinkedIn
Go through the business cards you collected during the event and connect with these people on LinkedIn. This will help build up and sustain the relationship until you can meet again in person. Individualise the little text when connecting by mentioning the conference.
Follow up on what was agreed
With some of the people you met, you may have agreed to send them certain information or provide them with an offer. Follow up quickly on what you agreed on during the event so you don’t loose momentum.
Evaluate your goals
Take a few minutes to review the goals you have set out before the conference. Have you reached them all? If not, why not? By doing a quick evaluation of the event you can more easily decide if it was worth your time and if you should attend again next year. Maybe you also need to give a report to your boss or colleagues from the event. These goals will help you show them what you have achieved.
Pencil in next year’s event and plan your budget
If your investment was worth your money, make sure to save the date for next year’s edition of the event and also plan your budget accordingly. This will allow you to book flights and hotels while they are still cheap and make use of early bird discounts for the registration fee.
With a good preparation, a good participation at the event and a good follow up, you will see how your network and business will profit from attending the conference or event. Most of these tips can also be helpful when attending a fair. I wish you a great conference and do let me know how you get on with these tips. Is there a tip you have that you think should be included here? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.