So, say you’ve decided to take the plunge and attend one -- or more -- of the many professional conferences taking place this year. I recently wrote about the top 10 conferences digital entrepreneurs should attend. In this follow-up, I want to draw on my experience attending dozens of these events, to share how entrepreneurs can benefit as much as I have.
Of course the caveat here is that, as with most things in life, what you get from attending a conference depends largely on what you put in.
By the time you add up travel, accommodations and admission costs, attending a conference requires a substantial investment of time and money. How do you ensure that you extract the most value from your attendance?
My team and I are veterans of hundreds of conferences. Together, we have put together a step-by-step checklist to help you get the most out of the conferences you attend.
Follow this list, tick off everything as you go and you'll have a perfectly planned conference strategy:
Do your research.
A vast array of conferences takes place each year. Depending on your line of business, you may be spoiled from all those choices. Resist the temptation to choose the conference that’s closest to home. Instead, seek the program of speakers and workshops that's most relevant to your business.
Remember: It’s not just money you’re investing when you attend a conference, it’s time. Travel expenses may pale in comparison to the additional value you'll receive from the event with the strongest lineup.
Here are a few of our top digital conference choices for 2018 by market segment:
SaaS:LTV Conference -- London, May 10-11, 2018
Affiliate Marketing:Affiliate Summit East -- New York, July 29-31, 2018
Content Marketing:Intelligent Content Conference -- Las Vegas, March 20-22, 2018
Conversion Rate Optimization: Hero Conf -- Austin, April 16-18, 2018
Ecommerce:Imagine -- Las Vegas, April 23-25, 2018
Digital Marketing:Digital Summit -- Los Angeles, April 10-11, 2018
Social Media Marketing:Social Media Week -- New York, April 24-27, 2018
Related: The Best SEO Conferences You Didn't Know Existed
Research the speakers.
As event day approaches, most conferences publish a full itinerary online. If you’ve already registered, you’re more or less guaranteed to receive this information well in advance. Once the speaker list is available, research each speaker thoroughly. Determine which speakers are most likely to offer insights and actionable takeaways for your particular business.
Narrow down your options.
Once you’ve researched the speakers and available workshops, you’ll have some decisions to make. Larger conferences typically have more than one “track” running at the same time. There are likely to be conflicting times for speakers and workshops.
Even if this isn’t the case, be realistic about how much information you can digest in a day. It’s tempting to try to see everyone, but be realistic about your capacity and pace yourself. This is particularly important for multi-day conferences.
Connect through social media.
If you haven’t already, join relevant Facebook groups for your industry. For example, Aaron Krall’s SaaS Growth Hacks is a must if you’re in the SaaS business. For content marketing, check out Traffic and Copy. Once you’ve joined the relevant groups, reach out and see what other members are attending. Pro-tip: Conferences also often offer discounted tickets to members of target groups
Another valuable social media strategy is to make sure you follow speakers and organizers for your chosen conference on Twitter. If you help promote their tweets, there’s a good chance they will remember you if the two of you get the opportunity to meet at the conference.
Shop for benefits and discounts.
As mentioned above, social media is a great place to hunt for discounted admissions and even ticket giveaways.
Most conferences offer an “early-bird” discount to purchasers who buy tickets well in advance.
Conferences are also often held in hotels or convention centers that offer discounted rates on accommodation to conference attendees.
It could be argued that you’ll derive as much or more value from the many opportunities conferences offer for networking than you will attending workshops and speaking events.
Many a deal and profitable business relationship have begun over drinks at a conference networking event. Don’t pass up the opportunity to meet like-minded entrepreneurs, investors and event speakers and organizers. Consider using this opportunity to pitch yourself as a potential future speaker.
Don’t forget to follow up.
Networking and socializing at a conference can (and should) be a lot of fun, but it’s also an investment. Make sure it pays off. It’s easy to let that pile of business cards you collected gather dust, but don’t let it.
Follow up with each valuable connection you’ve made via email or telephone. Follow these people on social media. Add them on LinkedIn. Think of ways you might be able to work together in the future and pursue them.
There you have it: a seven-step road map to conference success. The more conferences I've attended, the more valuable connections I've been able to make with motivated professionals who have shared thoughts and ideas relevant to my pursuits.
Related: Conferences Are Good for Networking but Great for Marketing
One of the most powerful aspects of conferences is the ability to gather like-minded individuals in a room, where ideas that might never have come to light have the breathing room to be shared. I’ve had relationships formed at conferences lead to life-changing business ventures. So, give yourself the same opportunity: Plan, attend, get out there and follow up!