How to make the most out of an industry conference

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The focus of this month’s column is on conference attendance and how proper planning will permit you to optimize your time and the many benefits you will derive.

At July’s Workplace Benefits Mania conference in Las Vegas I had five existing clients and three prospective clients with me, moderated a panel, made 22 introductions, hosted a private dinner meeting off-site, and made six new contacts for my business.

It was a very productive three days. But that didn’t just spontaneously happen. It took hours of advance planning and outreach before arriving at the conference.

Reflect upon your last conference experience. How many productive new contacts did you make? How did your attendance enhance some of your existing client or prospective client relationships?

Would you like to improve your efficiency and effectiveness at your next conference? Well then, let’s see what advance planning can mean for you.

Let’s start at the beginning. You’ve learned about a conference and you have some interest in attending. Aside from being in a great location that might present you with some relaxation time, what do you hope to accomplish from your attendance? Conference attendance usually represents an investment of hundreds if not thousands of dollars. What will be your ROI? You should have three-to-five specific goals in mind to make your commitment of time and money worthwhile. Allocate the amount of time you will devote to each goal based on its priority. Establish your conference itinerary so that you accomplish all that you want to when it can be best accomplished.

What topics are of interest to you? Can you implement any ideas that you would learn from a speaker to increase revenues or improve profits? If there are several topics that seem to have great potential and you would like to establish a personal connection with the speakers, then schedule those timeslots on your personal conference itinerary.

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Aside from attendance at presentations, what else do you want to accomplish? Are there current clients, prospects, carriers, vendors, etc., that would also benefit from attendance at the conference? Or would they benefit from introductions that you can make during your stay at the conference? If so, you will benefit tremendously from facilitating the introductions and letting both parties know how they can establish a mutually beneficial relationship.

So if there are several third parties that are likely candidates, reach out to them about conference attendance and let them know that there are other relationships of yours that have synergistic businesses that they will want to meet. Schedule these meetings when it is most convenient for you, given all that you want to accomplish. In any event, impress your relationships with your organizational ability; it will reap you big rewards in the future.

Do your research
What else do you want to get done while onsite? Many conferences now publish an advance list of registered attendees to promote and facilitate networking, or the organizers may promote who the past attendees were at the conference.

Do some research. Who among the hundreds or thousands of attendees do you want to meet? Identify those third parties, and contact them in advance. Let them know that you will be attending the conference and that you have an interest in meeting them for your mutual benefit. They often will be flattered and intrigued that you have sought them out in advance. Again, having scheduled appointments will make you more efficient and effective.

In addition, are there exhibitors that you want to meet? Are there specific products, services, value-added offerings that will benefit your business practice? If so, make these a priority and schedule an appointment at their booth. Conferences provide you an opportunity to see multiple parties in a short period of time under one roof without traveling to a number of locations. And because you can usually see them in rapid-fire order, you can make immediate direct comparisons and still have time to follow-up with additional questions once you’ve met them all.

Finally, you might consider offering your services as a guest speaker. It’s a great way to promote your business if the right attendees will be there. And once again, you will be viewed as an authoritative, subject matter expert. That’s an enviable position to be in when you are in sales of any kind.

Talk to the conference organizer, and if their agenda is already finalized for this year’s event, offer your thoughts on a timely and topical presentation for an upcoming conference. Aside from the marketing exposure and the potential to establish new client relationships, you may also be able to defray some of your conference attendance expenses as some conference organizers will waive your conference attendance fee if you are a guest speaker. Now that’s a great deal all around.

As you can see, with some advance planning you can really optimize your time while at a conference. Leaving to chance the probability of meeting all the right people at a conference is a formula for failure. So be proactive, invite third parties, reach out to attendees, speakers and exhibitors, and plan for success. The next conference you attend will be the best because you planned to optimize your time.

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