I’ve attended more conferences and tradeshows than I care to count, and I’ve learned that, like most things in life, what you get out of each event tends to be directly proportional to the amount of effort you put into it.
This means that if you truly want to maximize your experience, it’s critical that you develop and execute a detailed, well-thought-out game plan. Based on my own pressure-tested learnings about what works (and what doesn’t), I’ve put together the following tips that I hope will help you craft your own game plan to get the most out of any conference you attend.
Before the Conference
Study up: Make sure to download the conference app (if there is one) and to get a general sense of the attendees, the sessions and the space. Then, create a list that prioritizes what you want to see and map out your best, most efficient route to cover everything.
Align with others on goals and logistics: Identify other team members that will be attending and decide on travel plans. (Hint: when it comes to lodging, the closer to the venue, the better.) Work together to set expectations for high-level objectives you hope to achieve and the outputs you are looking to generate. It’s always fun to experience things as a team, but you may want to consider taking a divide-and-conquer approach to cover the most ground possible.
Connect with your social media team: Discuss ways you can share important information from the conference in real (or near-real) time. Make sure you have a clear understanding of your company’s policies and guidelines. Will you be posting directly (if so, you will need to have all the apps and usernames and passwords pre-loaded on your phone) or will you be sending content to someone else for approval and posting? Once a plan is in place, make sure to notify your broader team and networks so they can follow social media during the event—and like/share the posts in order to boost the reach and impact of the content.
Activate your network: Use your personal social media accounts (especially LinkedIn) to let your contacts know that you will be attending the conference. Reach out directly to top clients, vendors and prospects to see if they will be attending and would like to meet up.
During the Conference
Take care of yourself: It’s hard to have the best experience when you’re not feeling like your best self. So, try to start the day well-rested—that means don’t fly in too late the night before or too early the morning-of. Additionally, be sure to fuel up with a nutritious meal and bring plenty of wholesome snacks and your favorite form of hydration with you for the day. Oh, and wear comfortable footwear, because you’re going to be getting in a LOT of steps!
Capture, capture, capture: Information and inspiration hits you non-stop, so it’s easy to forget even the biggest “a-has” if you don’t document them. Use your phone to take notes and create a photo/video log as you navigate through various booths and sessions. When permitted, don’t forget to take snapshots of business cards, key product features and marketing messages that interest you—or might interest someone else on your team.
Tap into the power of social media: Share pictures, videos and updates on your social media platforms—and don’t forget to use the relevant event-specific hashtags and to tag any specific brands/companies you reference in your posts. And, remember, timing is key as the overall digital engagement and media coverage from a conference often provides a halo that can help your business amplify its reach.
Channel your inner social butterfly: It’s easy to turn inward as you process all of the stimuli around you. But it’s important not to miss out on the opportunity to mix and mingle with all of the amazing people around you. There is no better substitute for strengthening your network than striking up an impromptu conversation or sharing a few stories, laughs and business goals at the conference itself or over a meal, cocktails or even mini golf. Be creative, have fun, build that network!
Make time to review and refine your notes: We’ve all had the experience of looking at our own notes and thinking, “What does that mean?” That’s why it’s so important to leave time each evening to go through all the content in your phone (or wherever you have it) so you can clarify, categorize and expand upon everything while it is still fresh in your brain. Because people tend to be exhausted at the end of the day, this can be the easiest step to skip—yet it is critical to ensuring you are prepared to share learnings and implement action-steps once you return to the office.
After the Conference
Share the wealth: Debrief with any colleagues who attended the event with you to share notes and photo/video logs with each other. Work together to align on key learnings and then create a summary or presentation to share with your broader teams.
Use it, don’t lose it: Don’t let all that knowledge just waste away on your phone. Develop a formal plan to put your learnings into action. Enroll key stakeholders in specific steps, timing and progress measurement metrics and align on a system for sharing regular progress reports with the broader team.
Get ready to do it all again: Do some research and start thinking about the next conference you want to attend. Need some inspiration? Check out our lists of top innovation and creativity conferences you might want to consider.
Edited by Adam Siegel. In addition to being the Editor of The Accelerator, Adam is VP, Creative at Seed Strategy where he draws upon his diverse experience in advertising, research and innovation to craft breakthrough creative and winning concept copy.