Getting the most out of attending trade shows and conferences

Everyone gets to an industry event sooner or later. We spend time and money getting there, being there and listening. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out how we could get more bang for all that time and cash. Enter: metrics. Huh?

First up, I want to note off the bat that I’m wholesale adapting this article about getting extreme value from trade shows. Leave it to the metric-heads at e-metrics to come up with this sort of thing. So go read the source if you want more. Alright, down to business.

Before you get to the conference

You need to be absolutely certain you know why you are going to the conference or trade show. Just going to hang out or because you think you’ll hear something good. The more vague you are about your objectives, the more vague will be your results. Maybe you’re going to the show in order to learn something critical to your business success, maybe you’re going to pitch prospective clients, maybe you’re going to raise your profile in the industry. All of those would require some planning ahead. Let’s do some simple planning ahead:

  1. Identify 3 outcomes you want from the conference. These outcomes should be clear, specific and measurable. The more detail the better (who, what, when, where). Bonus points if you use S.M.A.R.T. goals.
  2. Write down your goals. You should write them in the past tense, as if they have already happened. You write them down this way so that you will know when you’ve achieved your outcome: when the statement is true, you have accomplished your goal.
  3. Determine a method to measure progress. This is a nice place to put numbers, but it’s also a good place to break down your larger goal into specific phases.
  4. Put copies of your 3 outcomes in the pockets of all the clothing you will wear at the event.

At the trade show or conference

Alright, you’re there listening to awesome speakers, excellent panelists and hanging out in the hallways. Your three outcomes are burning a hole in your pocket. Time for some action:

  • Identify which speakers and sessions are most likely to attract people who can help your achieve your goals. Let that help you determine which sessions you attend.
  • Early in any conversation, ask the other person what they’re most hoping to get out of the conference. If you can help them achieve what they’re after then do so.
  • Chances are good they’ll ask you what you’re hoping to get out of the conference or what you’re enjoying most. This is a good time to let them know about some of your goals. Maybe they can help you out.

Bonus Round: Charlene Li, co-author of Groundswell, does a great Q&A with herself about how to network. This includes some great tactics on when/how to approach speakers after a presentation. Chris Brogan provides a list of links to articles about making your conference experience great (scroll down).

After the show

Remember all that measurability you put in your outcomes? Start using it. Did you meet enough people? Initiate enough sales conversations? Help enough people? Did you let enough people help you?

I hope this is helpful and not too basic. How do you get the most out of a conference?

3 thoughts on “Getting the most out of attending trade shows and conferences

  1. These are some good guidelines. After many years of going to conferences, I am convinced the personal connections and relationships are always the most important part. This is one of the reasons that virtual conferences will never replace those that give us fascinating people and good friends we only see a few times a year to have some fun and conversation with! Looking forward to seeing everyone!!!!
    Hugs and Smiles!

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