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When showing up isn’t enough: How to get the most out of industry conferences

Industry conferences are a seemingly never-ending affair. For some, it’s a time to network with other industry professionals and experts. For others, a chance to show off their latest products and services, impress investors and advance their businesses for everyone to see.

These confabs and trade shows can deliver solid ROI, but only if you’ve developed an action plan well in advance. This is one time in life when just showing up is not nearly enough. In fact, going unprepared could be a waste of both money and time, or make you look worse than if you hadn’t gone at all.

Let’s remember these events’ potential benefits. By providing extended, invaluable face time, they’re one of the best ways for business leaders to make connections, establish brands, share best practices and showcase or demo the value of their offerings.

But you won’t get all that without first deciding (a) if a specific conference is even likely to provide the value and ROI you seek and (b) what your goals are and why you’re attending in the first place. It’s crucial to talk strategy months ahead with key in-house players and decide what you expect to gain from the event and how. Should you send PR people for branding, HR for recruiting, sales for getting in front of new clientele? Submit team members as potential panelists or breakout session leaders? These decisions, when posed and answered early, will help you maximize every minute and dollar your company invests in attending an event, whether at meet-and-mingles or out on the floor.

Here are a few key steps for making your plan:

1. Gut-check your online personal brand.

One of the very first things people do when they see an unfamiliar email-sender or panelist speaker is to look up that person online. First impressions matter, and your online profile is probably your best shot. So whether you have a strong social media following or are just trying attract one, it’s time to leverage that forum for networking. Determine which channels matter most to your target audiences and position yourself there, pumping up your profile with content that gives people an opportunity to learn. At Red Fan, we usually find that means starting with LinkedIn and Twitter. If you have a blog, make sure it’s current.

Other tactics to consider:

  • Follow thought leaders and mavens in your field on Twitter and connect with them on LinkedIn.

  • Follow the conference you’re attending, and find content or posts you can share, retweet or comment on. Notice others who comment.

  • Search the event hashtag to see who’s going and who else is following it.

  • Define what you want to be known for and focus on that; don’t try to be a wizard of all things. Decide what the best channel is for showcasing your expertise, and guide all followers there with links.

  • Most of all, be authentic and consistent in your voice. You want people to look forward to seeing what you do next.

2. Set up meetings.

Face-to-face meetings build great relationships, especially in a time when email, social media and the occasional conference call have become the dominant means of communication. But events become a sea of faces unless you’ve purposely orchestrated the connections you hope to make. For that to happen:

  • Identify your goals for the event, and make a list of the people with whom you truly want to connect. Reach out to each contact at least three weeks prior, with a compelling note that conveys why you should meet for coffee, a drink, a quick chat at your booth or a dinner after conference hours.

  • Get a highlighter and mark your must-do mixers, exhibits, sessions, speakers and Q&As. Make a calendar that removes all the noise so you can gracefully move from place to place. By slimming your schedule, you’ll probably notice gaps where you can fit in side meetings.

3. Make your brand presence pop.

Beyond the obvious visibility of being a sponsor, exhibitor or panelist, get creative. Well before the event, huddle with your marketing and PR teams and brainstorm ways to stand out. Do you have news or research to unveil? If so, could you hold a special VIP breakfast, dinner or killer whiskey tasting where you might accomplish that? Is there a way you could team with another company and make a bigger splash? What is going to get you front-and-center at this event with the people you’ve traveled there to see?

Whatever you do, do it with intent, decide it in advance and your investment in the event will be a win. Don’t let a conference sneak up on you!

Still unsure how to get the most out of a conference you’re attending? Drop us a line at hello@redfancommunications, we’d be happy to help!

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