Conferences are not just about the speakers and keynotes, but a chance to be with other startups, companies, industry leaders, and peers learning how to be better companies, strive toward your goals more accurately, and network with the people who’ve been there (or are still there) so you have a support group.
In many cases, conference attendees come from everywhere, both geographically and in terms of industry. Guests include Fortune 500 companies, educational institutions, and potential business collaborators – it is also an amazing networking opportunity if you go into it with the right attitude and preparedness.
For this reason, we’ve compiled a quick selection of our top tips to be your very own Survival Guide to Surviving and Succeeding at Conference Events. Picture credit: Ray McManus/ SPORTSFILE / Web Summit
Making the Most of Interactions
Before you go, read through the list of speakers and exhibitors. Decide who you want to talk with, engage with people in that desired area and your target people with authenticity and enthusiasm.
Helping someone is a good way to align with someone you want to talk and connect with. Make an effort on your side and you’re more likely to see a connection forged by someone on their side.
Don’t forget to listen because if you’re talking to someone you admire, they may have some unexpected advice.
Trading Cards & Staying In Touch
With all the noise that an event generates, everything often becomes a blur of details and days tend to blend into each other. The old business card trick is to take cards from those who offer and as soon as you can scribble a note on the card.
The new trick is just to keep a notebook open on your phone to add stuff to an event notebook, so it instantly becomes a resource for the entire team. There are dozens of notebook options. We obviously use the Notebooks feature of the Teamwork Projects app.
Worst-case scenario, final task each night, take five minutes to scribble down what you can remember about the day.
Taking photos of business cards and selfies with people is also an approach we’ve seen used, though the images are often lost in the abyss of your phone never to be shared with your team, or followed up on outside of your Instagram or Snapchat.
Learn from Previous Attendees
This is especially true for repeat events, such as annual conferences and summits. With any event, you can be sure that previous attendees have blogged about the experiences which can be a great resource.
Search and read posts written about previous years and events so you can see what you’re getting into.
Often, visitors to one conference attend others in a related field so if you have a blogger you read regularly who attends these events, perhaps there will be posts informing you of upcoming events as well. Let these people be your guide to the pitfalls and Easter egg finds of conferences and other big events.
Preparing to get the most out of events means that there’s a far greater return for you and your business and can help justify the associated costs.
Never Eat Alone
Try and stick to a reasonably normal schedule, eat wisely – get in those three meals a day – Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. Be brave and don’t see mealtime as the first day of school and you don’t have a friend to sit with, this is your opportunity to meet someone new. Not only does it help with digestion, but also it is maximizing your networking time. Really, it’s true!
Every face-to-face interaction is an opportunity to meet someone and expand your network, and this includes meals. Try not to be too strategic or selective or you’ll be left standing looking for a seat while everyone else just grabs one. Communal dining is the lucky dip of networking! When you’re actually across from someone, don’t spend your entire time with your face buried in your smartphone.
Your Planning Timeline
9+ Weeks Beforehand – If you haven’t already, buy your conference tickets, make travel arrangements, and reserve your hotel room. Hotel prices will go up as the event approaches. The weeks just prior to the conference event, depending on the city, it may take a minor miracle to find accommodations, so planning ahead is your friend when it comes to tickets, travel, and a place to sleep.
8 Weeks Beforehand – Choose your swag, business cards, and anything you’d need for your presentation or booth if you have one. Decide on the design and graphics with your team and coordinate with the printer for proofs.
7 Weeks Beforehand – It may sound paranoid, but telephone your hotel to confirm your reservation. As much as being in Dublin for three days without a place to sleep may sound like a great idea for a hit song, it’s not as fun as it sounds.
6 Weeks Beforehand – Place the final order for your swag, business cards, and anything you’d need for your presentation/booth. If your order is coming from overseas or must go through customs, order in early to mid-September instead.
5 Weeks Beforehand – Prepare your pitch and prepare your objectives so you make the most of the conference/exhibition experience and being amidst so much expertise, experience, and investment capital.
3-4 Weeks Beforehand – Double check the received swag, business cards, and printed items for accuracy.
2 Weeks Beforehand – Pack your swag and printed materials carefully and have gadget sleeves, your business card case, necessary cords, and a USB key or two packed carefully.
Before you travel – Pack your clothing and regular travel supplies, including your comfortable shoes. Check local weather. For instance, if you’re visiting Las Vegas, you’d be packing differently than if you’re coming to Ireland. Ireland’s weather in November includes rain and temperatures ranging from 4ºC-12ºC (40ºF-53ºF). Light layers are essential and a raincoat is good if you ever want to go outside. However, Vegas would be a bit warmer and less rainy.
Your Toolkit (What to Pack)
There are certain items you should pack to be most comfortable for your time at your next conference event. Most of these are common sense:
Light sweater or jacket
Exhibition halls can be cool, but also consider local weather.
If you need to be staffing a booth, in a panel discussion, or even if your wish list plan is ambitious, you may not have the flexibility to break for real food so pack a snack. A bottle of water is recommended, though at the moment the policies of what can be brought in are not posted so check the official conference website for that information closer to the day.
Wear comfortable closed-toe shoes
Comfortable because you’ll be on your feet a lot. Closed-toe because in crowded rooms, feet get stepped on.
Carry an ample supply of your business cards
Even if you have to print some off the week before, it is important to have these handy. If you don’t have any, inevitably, you will be asked for your card at least 3,971 times. That’s a lot of kicking yourself.
Don’t miss out on the city
The conference venue may be its own small city, but you’re in a new place steeped in history, culture, and nightlife so be sure to get out of the venue for a little while and explore what the city has to offer.
Research the speakers and exhibitors
Some may be exactly who you want to learn from and this is your opportunity so look up their work and the path that brought them to the Web Summit because there could be some unexpected career inspiration there.
There will be A LOT of information and things to look at so even if you have the best memory in the world, jot the important things down.
Have your pitch ready, be polite and respectful, and be authentic
You never know who you’ll be talking to. What happened become what it is today is the stuff legends are made of. And it isn’t the only success story,
Protect your time.
Three days will fly by in an instant, so strategize to arrive early and avoid booths that don’t interest you, even if they have cool free swag. Because even free swag costs you the minutes to stop what you’re doing and maybe even fill out a survey or form. Know the time you’re spending on something before you go into it so you don’t miss whatever is next and can completely enjoy being in the moment wherever you are.
Plan a social breakout session
If you have friends attending, be sure to set aside a little time to see one another. This can even be just a tea break, but you’ll be surprised how recharging it can be to see a friendly face.
Charge your smartphone and/or camera
You may see more than one person you’d love a shameless selfie with so be ready when the opportunity arises. Then accurately tag the person if you share it on social media. And don’t forget to capture. There is usually a section hosted by a social media or phone company hosting phone charging, but as a backup plan bring a power pack or your necessary cords.
Be ready on Twitter
because it will liven up during the three days and watch the conference hashtag for familiar faces and news of cool fringe and evening events.
Follow the Hashtags
because every conference has an official hashtag. Memorize it. Use it. Social media can be a great real-time source of information. There’s always an official hashtag for any event, usually set up by the event organizers, but often there’s variations of this hashtag.
Away You Go
Much like anything in life and startups, any conference is what YOU make of it. Sure, you have a ticket and a hotel room, but don’t just arrive and clock the hours – really make the most of the experience.
This is the highest concentration of experienced and enthusiastic idea makers who turned those ideas into businesses you may see all year, so have your smart questions ready, practice active listening, mingle and meet the people who may share the excitement you have for your work and have some fun!