Being active in your trade involves quite a lot these days. Pursuits such as continuing education and constant networking can really take a toll on the average professional, and conferencing may seem like one of these time-consuming activities. However, when done the right way, participating in regular conferences offers a return on your investment that makes it ultimately worthwhile.
A conference – also known as a trade show, seminar, or convention – often seems like a waste of time and resources. This is especially true if you spend a few days out of the office and shell out revenue for plane tickets, hotel reservations, and meals. Sponsors of conferences also set aside budgets for marketing materials. But you should know that if you have attended conferences in the past and have seen little to no results, you might be attending the wrong types of conferences. Read below to learn how you can purposefully choose a trade show to reach your business goals.
Choosing the Right Type of Professional Conference
There are many different types of events out there, and millions are planned on an international level every year. Workshops, for instance, are focused on educating professionals, while a consumer show is open to the general public. Not every event will be beneficial for your company, however. Here’s a list to guide you through the decision-making process.
- Business goals – Before you begin searching for events this year, ask yourself these questions: “What do we want to get out of this conference? What are our goals?” For instance, you might be looking to generate new leads or meet new vendors. By keeping your ultimate goal in mind, it is easier to pick which will be best for you.
- Cost – Add up the total cost of attending the event, and then consider your potential return on investment. If gaining just one or two new customers covers your cost, then it might be worth your time to go.
- Attendees – Who is your target audience, and will they be in attendance at the event? For instance, if you are only looking to meet C-level executives, then an academic networking event is not necessarily the best fit.
- Speakers and topics – Make sure that any topics covered are relevant to your field. It won’t do you much good to attend an accounting seminar if you’re in the auto industry.
- Networking opportunities – Some conferences will have events specifically for down time and social activities. You need to decide whether or not these can be used as time for connecting with other professionals.
How to Prepare for a Professional Conference
Even if a conference lasts through a long weekend, it can still fly by pretty quickly. This is why planning everything ahead of time is absolutely essential.
This includes making the right travel arrangements. Consider reservations for hotel rooms, rental cars, and transportation. Sometimes conferences will give you a discount on specific vendors, so it doesn’t hurt to give them a call and ask. Because there will be hundreds of other attendees, you want to make sure you have all the accommodations in place beforehand. Otherwise, you will waste valuable time.
Right before you travel, gather all of the necessary travel documents and confirmation numbers. These should all be in one place for easy access. This is especially true when traveling with a team of other people.
Pack accordingly. Since you will be on your feet for most of the events, bring a pair of comfortable shoes for walking in. If the weather is cold, bring a few layers of clothing. Extra phone chargers and small snacks also come in handy. Just be sure to make a list of everything that needs to travel with you so you won’t run into surprises if something necessary is forgotten.
When it comes to the actual seminars, are you prepared to promote your business? This is a very common mistake for conference attendees. When a potential customer is interested in your products or services, and you don’t have anything to show them, this can cost you revenue in the long run. Instead, print out additional business cards and marketing materials like brochures (if relevant). Most companies order promotional items like keychains and pens ahead of time. Keep business cards with you at all times, because you never know when you will run into a new opportunity.
By the way, don’t forget to follow up with new connections as soon as the conference is over! Gather their workplace email, phone number, and website if possible. There are many opportunities to sell to a potential lead by offering a special discount simply because you met in person at a seminar.
How to Make the Most Out of a Professional Conference
Gain visibility with active participation. Become a presenter, facilitator, or volunteer for just a few hours. Organizers are always looking for an extra set of hands to help. This is a proven way to strengthen professional relationships and get in front of your target audience.
Our next tip is to make sure to choose the sessions that will benefit your business the most. There are many different types of sessions, ranging from skill-building to simple meet and greets. Each type of event will have a host of different attendees, so plan your time wisely. Ideally, your agenda should be fairly full. However, if you need to take a quick break away from the crowds, plan a time for rest during the “less busy” hours of the conference.
Finally, participate in the conference through popular social media channels. Major attendees and speakers will already have Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts, so you can follow and connect with these accounts before the conference even begins. Have your social media coordinator write about the event and make several announcements about your attendance. This helps build excitement for the event.
Additionally, conferences should have a designated hashtag that everyone can use. For example, this year’s popular Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has the official hashtag #CES2018. Be sure to take plenty of photos and use this hashtag when you post them. Hundreds (or even thousands) of people will potentially view the hashtag, so your account will most likely get noticed!