Maximize Your Annual Conference Experience

Spending thousands on industry events without seeing a solid ROI? Here are five strategies that will get results.
April 04, 2012

For the last 10 years I have attended the same industry conference with the intentions of learning how to destroy the competition and grow my business with all the new knowledge I will be collecting as I sit through keynote speakers, breakout sessions and lectures. I have the best of intentions and a positive attitude, but why is it that I never seem to find that magic bean that will sprout into the business building answer I was seeking?

Is it because the conference is held in Las Vegas and it appears many attendees come for the entertainment and are more interested in the road trip? Or is there something embedded in the human psyche that yearns to find simple solutions to complex issues with as little resistance as possible that keeps us coming back year after year? I think both of these are plausible explanations as to why we pack up our suitcases and make the annual trek. Whatever the reason, we need to be as productive as possible at these types of conferences to justify their existence and get the most ROI.

Here are a few strategies you can use to ensure you have the best possible outcome to your annual pilgrimage to your favorite industry event.

1. Plan ahead

Don't just wing it. Decide what sessions you are going to attend and what vendors, partners or experts you want to meet with on-site. Make those decisions and appointments ahead of time and confirm them before you get there. You want to make sure you accomplish everything that you feel will impact your business and it's more difficult if it's not planned out in advance.

2. Investigate

Research all vendors and speakers on the web to gain a better understanding of what it is you will be seeing or hearing so you can have good questions in mind.  Some of these may be answered in the sessions or private meetings, but maybe not. Having the right information is powerful and will also separate you from the other attendees in respect to your reputation as a well prepared professional.

3. Socialize

Make sure you find a way to plan time for casual networking with those you want to collaborate with. Most deals happen after you feel comfortable with each other and have determined your compatibility outside of the actual work you will doing together. 

4. Write your goals down

You’re going to spend thousands of dollars to attend this conference and be away from the office and your family so you should have a clear outline of why you are going. Be realistic about it. For example: I will meet with two vendors, reconnect with one dormant but potentially good relationship and I will make it to three seminars.

5. Be prepared to take notes

Most events are filled with so much information it would be impossible to remember it all. I use my iPad and Evernote to compile them. I even snap a few pictures of vendor notes or people I want to remember for next time. Use whatever technology works for you. Pen and paper work fine, but those get lost and I can barely read my own writing a week later.

Still looking for that silver bullet? I would recommend you stop looking and actually start doing the little things that actually move good companies forward. No single event, meeting or vendor relationship generally solves all your company’s ills. No matter your industry, attending these events are extremely important to the health and success of your business as long as you go with the realistic view that you will probably not find that one cure-all. What you will find are new connections, old business flames, a new perspective and if you follow the suggestions above, a solid return on your investment.

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