We all attend professional conferences. Some are close-knit groups, such as the Legal Marketing Association’s Annual Conference; others will have 10s of thousands in attendance, and take over a whole city (ACC Annual Meeting, CES, NRF’s Big Show).
Sometimes we will know no one attending, other times hundreds due to our level of involvement in the organization.
No matter how many people you know or don’t know, speaker or not, first time attendee or not, you need to prepare to maximize the time you will be there, and out of the office.
I start to prepare for a conference approximately two weeks or so before my departure. When I say I do these things, I really do them, and I coach others to do so as well for one reason: They work.
Prepare for your follow up well in advance
What do I mean by this? Whether you are a speaker or an attendee, with the goal of making new connections, you need to have something prepared that you can use for follow up with the new people that you meet.
Write an article and have it published in a local legal paper is the easiest. For a speaker, it’s holding back an article or case of note that you mention in your presentation, or the updated slide deck. Very simply add to your closing:
If you’d like a copy of the article, bring me your business card or connect with me on LinkedIn and I’ll get that to you.
For me, since I am not speaking at the annual LMA conference, I’m working on updating my generational stats of who is leading the AmLaw 100, Fortune 100, and Nasdaq 100. The American Lawyer and New York Times are waiting for this information to update their discussion on the topic, and I want to have the information available in some format as a follow up to those I will meet for the first time.
I assure you, that while at the conference, since you will be talking about what you do, it will be very easy to add a “Give me your card and I’ll send that to you when I get back to the office.” And add a note to the card so you don’t forget.
You have now created a “permission to contact.” When you send out your item, include a “Bill, here’s the article I mentioned while at the conference. It was great connecting there, and I’ll give you a call next week.” Now you have not only created a “value-proposition,” you have thrown in a “permission to call” to boot.
This is the easiest way to start to connect with people. Almost every conference will have a Twitter hashtag, a LinkedIn Group, or a Facebook page. Good ones have all three. Follow, Connect and Like. You will find some people, like you, will be members of all three groups, but others are just participating in one, and then there are the lurkers. Don’t be a lurker.
To begin meeting people, start a conversation, or participate in one. Follow, Connect, and Like the companies and vendors attending. Then start to look for the individuals by seeing who else is a member of the group, or if someone has started a list of attendees on Twitter.
In my Twitter account, I keep a list of those who attend the LMA Annual Conference. Anyone using the conference hashtag goes in there. Over the years it has become a very rich list of people who operate in my industry. I keep that list open all year round so I can keep up with and connect with these people on topics other than the conference.
For those new to Twitter or LinkedIn/Facebook Groups, here are a few conversation starters:
When is everyone arriving? I arrive at JFK Friday at 2:00. Who wants to share a cab into the City? conf16
Just arrived for #Conf16. Anyone want to meet in the Sports Bar for lunch?
Who’s headed to the General Counsel section in Concourse B? Any seats left? Looking forward to @sallysmith. #conf16
I have used all of these successfully and met new people who have become valued colleagues over the years.
Conference Agenda as a Workbook
Sure, we all flip through it, but how many of you really study it not for what you want to learn, but who you need to get to know?
Who are the speakers? What companies do they represent? What types of audience will they attract? Are these people you need to know?
Do they list their social media addresses? If so, Follow, Connect and Like. If not listed in the agenda, Google will be your friend. If on Twitter, it will be easy to shoot a message over to the speaker that you look forward to meeting them at the conference. For LinkedIn, go to your desktop and click on the picture so you can send a personal message:
Ms. Smith, I’ll be attending the annual conference and look forward to your presentation on XYZ, and to finally having the chance to meet you in person.
On Twitter, you can follow, and just add a post:
.@sallysmith – look forward to your presentation on XYZ at #conf16
Get to the session early and introduce yourself to the speaker. As you’ve already reached out to them via Twitter or LinkedIn, you have now created a warm introduction, and will stand out amongst the thousands attending the event.
Don’t wait until you get home to connect with people you meet or want to meet. Do it while the speaker is speaking, or pull out your phone and connect on LinkedIn while talking to a prospect.
Live Tweet or Blog From the Conference
You want to stand out and become a beacon? Start live-tweeting the sessions.
There will be people in the room and other sessions who you will connect with very quickly. People who could not attend the conference, but are interested in the topic, will start to follow the hashtags. So will the reporters assigned to the topic or conference. Not to mention the conference organizers, and the following year’s conference committee.
Live-tweeting will allow you to become quickly known, stand out from the crowd, and make valued connections.
As for blogging, if you or your firm have a blog that fits the industry or topic, start to post recaps of the sessions live. If not, add them to your LinkedIn as an Update (and don’t forget to tag it). You will now extend your reach from the conference, to your personal and firm connections. You might find out that they are at the conference, or someone you know knows someone at the conference that you “just have to meet.”
Clear your schedule
Emergencies happen. Shit happens. And it turns out that we have to work while at a conference. Minimize this. Plan to be in the conference area at all times. Bring your laptop so you can work in the lobby without going back to your room. Don’t forget your chargers for your phone, smart device. But, for the most part, prepare your office and your clients for the fact you will be out of the office for a couple days. Hey, hopefully your clients will be AT the conference with you.
For most of us, our competitors and potential clients/referral sources are all at the conference. Think of it this way, if you are up in your room working, and your competitor is downstairs networking, who’s going to come away all the richer in relationships?
Purchase the WiFi on the plane home, and don’t forget your laptop
On the plane home, pull out the conference attendee list. More and more conferences are putting this online, so print it out before you leave the hotel. Bring a couple highlighters in different colors (there might even be a vendor or two handing these out in the exhibit hall in case you forgot).
Highlight everyone you met in one color, and everyone you didn’t meet, but wish you had, in another. Start to connect on LinkedIn with everyone you highlighted. You want to do this through your laptop, not a smart device app, so you can add a personal message:
Jim – It was great meeting you at the Conference. Next time I’m in your city/you’re in my city, I hope you’ll allow me to buy you lunch. Let’s connect.
Dr. Brown, I am so sorry I missed your presentation on time travel. Marty McFly raved about it. Is it possible to get a set of the handouts. My email is __________. I hope you will accept my connection.
Ms. Smith, I’m sorry we did not have the opportunity to meet while at the Conference. I presented on XYZ and if you’re interested, I can send you a copy of the handouts. I hope you will accept my connection.
And hit connect.
What it comes down to is that you will get out of a conference what you put into it. If you arrive late, don’t hang out in the exhibit hall, don’t prepare to meet with anyone, act like a wallflower, and then leave early, you will waste your time and your firm’s money.
If you spend a few hours of planning, across several weeks, your investment will pay the dividend of an enriched experience and new connections.
And it goes without saying, update your bio and social media profiles before you leave, and make sure your LinkedIn profile picture looks like you.