Conferences and exhibitions are a regular part of business life – especially for those in sales and marketing – but can be daunting for first timers. Here’s our guide on handling your first event
The endless stalls, a timetable of talks, presentations and sessions, and the obligatory social events – there’s a lot going on at conferences and if you’re not prepared, your first time could end up being a waste of not only valuable time but also money.
Here are our 8 tips for making the most from your first conference:
1. Plan ahead
Once you’ve selected the right conference for you, you’ve got to start planning. First, send out an email to any regular contacts you have who might be going. If it’s your first time, it’ll be good to have friendly faces there who could introduce you to other people.
Make sure you’ve got plenty of business cards as well. While they might seem old fashioned, people at these events are busy and won’t have time to download an app to swap details.
2. Know what you want from the event
Some people attend these events because their boss said they should or simply because it’s on. But you’ll want to have some concrete targets to justify what is an expensive trip.
These can be anything from getting a certain number of leads to having a meeting with a specific person.
Once you know why you’re going, make sure you’ve got an ‘elevator pitch’ ready. This should cover:
• who you are: name and role
• where you’re from: company and what it does
• what you want to get from the event: not just want you want but what you can offer other people
3. Pick your meetings carefully
The temptation is to fill your day full of meetings. After all, there’s probably going to be people attending that you’ve been chasing for weeks to get hold of.
But, likewise, you don’t want to completely fill your day.
Prioritise your meetings – go for ones that could potentially lead to something else or people who it wouldn’t be easy to see from your office. There’s no use in travelling hundreds of miles to meet a person who works in the same town as you.
4. Attend sessions
Have a look at the timetable of sessions, talks, presentations and classes and select a few key ones.
These are useful if you want to fill in gaps in your knowledge, are looking to keep your finger on the pulse or are interested in the speaker.
If you get the chance, always try and introduce yourself to the speaker after the event.
5. Give yourself some free time
Even if it’s just an hour or so a day, you’ll need some free time; firstly to catch your breath, but also to have a wander around the various stalls.
Talk to people from companies you’ve never heard of or see what your competition is doing.
It’s also worth having a half hour slot free for any unexpected meetings. If you’re going to be at the conference for a few days, who knows what contacts and arrangements will be made.
6. Use social media
Social media is a great tool for reaching out to people who you don’t know yet but would like to meet.
Before the event visit the conference site and see who is attending and connect with them online.
During the event, tweet your experiences and tag the conference. After the event, go through the business cards you’ve collected and use social media to follow make initial contact.
7. Embrace the social side
There’s a large social aspect to many of these events, so embrace it.
Go to after conference drinks or simply sit down and have lunch with people you don’t know. It’s a lot easier and more natural to talk at lunch or over drinks than with a stranger stood in a corridor.
8. Follow up
Perhaps most importantly is the need to follow up. It’s no use gathering all this information and contact details and then leaving it in your desk drawer.
Go through everything from the business cards to notes taken at sessions. Share them with your colleagues to see if they’ve developed a relationship previously with any of your leads.
Posted by Ashleigh Sharp
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