Over the last two years, I have attended a few conferences, and while I haven’t been a guest at nearly enough in my opinion, I do have some early lessons and information to hand out to bloggers thinking of attending conferences.
So far, I have been fortunate enough to attend two BarCamps, Northern Voice, Mesh and nextMedia.
With the crazy weather in Canada, you would think that you need tons of gear to deal with anything the city you are visiting decides to throw at you, but moving around a hefty bit of luggage, as well as any technology you bring with you can be a nightmare.
Bring only the essentials, and deal with whatever mother nature decides to throw at you. If you are going for a three day event, and bring three sweaters, just in case it gets cold, you will be lugging them around for no reason if the weather stays nice, or you go from the event, to a cab, to the hotel without spending more than thirty seconds outside. If for some reason, you do end up needing a sweater on the second or third day, then pick up an inexpensive one, or take it as a sign you needed to shop for a new favorite.
This leads me to my next point.
Make Sure You Have Somewhere to Store Your Gear
I have been a bit silly before, and not arranged somewhere to put my suitcase before going to the conference, and so far I have been fairly lucky, with the facility either having somewhere for me to store it, or just having a place to tuck it out of the way, and hope no one walked off with my clothing.
If you have come into the city of the event before hand, and have a hotel, you already have a place to put your stuff. Otherwise, pay the fee to get storage at the airport, bus or train station, as most of them seem to have some coin operated storage. It can be a little annoying to come back and pick it up later in the evening, but it can be better than carting it around to different rooms at the conference.
Write Down Lots of Bullet Points
If your memory is anything like mine, you will want to be sure to write down lots of bullet points from each session you attend. Key information about the presentation can mean the difference between being able to write a comprehensive article, and just doing a summary of an entire day.
I don’t know about you, but I like coming away from conferences being able to create at least three great posts per day of the event.
Have Business Cards Made
When I went to my first conference, I didn’t have business cards yet, and so when I talked to people, I felt a little silly not being able to join the trading system that seemed to be at the end of any new meeting.
Even if you only blog for yourself, it never hurts to have business cards made, so that you can hand people your name, and contact details for reference later.
Network with People
One of the first things I have noticed at conferences is that people like to stick to their groups. If you go with a few people, you will probably spend the whole time talking to each other. I have been known to stay within my comfort zone as well, but you won’t build a great contact list if you sit and wait for people to come up to you.
Don’t be shy. They are all there to network and learn, just like you. If you see someone alone, walk up, introduce yourself, and ask which company they are from and what they have thought of the event so far. If none of the sessions have begun, ask them why they are at the event, and what they are hoping to learn. These are easy ice breakers that will quickly give you a sense of the person you are talking to.
If you see a group, and they seem rather casual, walk close to them, and see if you can join in. Don’t interrupt, but listen for key opportunities to break into the conversation and join in.
Take a Day Off After Returning
Even if the trip is only a few hours away, when you go to a conference, there is no one doing your work, and even if you only blog for yourself, you will still feel behind. When you get back, give yourself a little time to recharge, and let everything from the conference sink in.
I use this time to organize the rest of my week, file away the business cards I received, and organize my notes from the event.
You will be surprised how draining conferences can be, or how exhilarating they can be. Getting back into the working, writing, publishing groove can be fairly difficult.
One of the best ways to get noticed by people at an event is to participate and one of the easiest ways to participate is to ask intelligent questions if and when there are openings for them.
Any way you can involve yourself will help set you apart from others, and also derive more value from the conference. I have lost count at how many new things I have learned just by being able to get an expert to answer my question.
Also, I noticed that people that asked questions were more likely to have people talk to them between sessions, and anything that gets people willing to approach you, makes your job of networking that much easier.
Personally Thank the Organizers
One thing that I have found very helpful is to thank the organizers. If you can’t find all of them, any single one would do. Getting a business card from an organizer allows you an easier way to be invited back to the next event, get priority information, or even helps get you speaking at the next event if that’s your goal.
Also, it never hurts to let them know when they did a good job, so that they will feel just a tiny bit more compelled to do it again.
While all the other points are important, and hopefully helpful, this last point is the key to the whole article. Conferences are a chance to network with like-minded people and do something out of the ordinary. It is a chance to let loose a little, and make some great business connections.
Don’t let these opportunities pass without having some fun. You never know when it will all end and you will be doing reports at some desk somewhere.