We just wrapped up attending the 2015 Restaurant Leadership Conference in Phoenix, AZ yesterday. It was a successful trip for Connectivity and included fantastic speakers and busy networking with the restaurant industry’s most innovative thinkers.
We attend a good number of conferences and trade shows each year and this got us thinking: what makes a great conference? Most of the details (speakers, material presented, venue), are out of your hands. And even though no one can actually control the temperature in chilly Grand Ballroom A, there is a lot you can do to make your next conference the best one ever.
Take these tips on the road:
1. Research speakers, breakout session leaders and panels in advance
Don’t wait until you are on the plane or in the hotel dealing with a fussy wifi connection. Back home, print out the conference schedule and take time to go over the slate of speakers. Use LinkedIn to research more about the speakers beyond their brief conference bios.
Circle the sessions you want to attend and then take a picture with your smartphone. Or schedule appointments in your phone’s calendar for the sessions you don’t want to miss. At really crowded conferences, you may have to do some strategic planning to skip Session C so you can get in line for Session D.
2. Make a conference goal. Why are you going?
Well, duh, they told me to go. Okay, you may not have much choice about attending this particular conference. But now that you’re packing the carry-on for three days away, put some thought into why you will attend. You may be going to:
>Master a marketing platform
> Develop leads for sales
> Demo your product
> Get inspiration and stay on top of digital innovation
Take a few minutes to sketch out your goal. If you approach these few days away as an important part of your job, you are much more likely to emerge happier, smarter and more satisfied for the time spent away from your regular life.
3. Choose your networking dream list. Who do you want to meet?
It’s not a conference if there aren’t plenty of opportunities to socialize. So, hit that hotel bar, swanky reception or gala with some thoughts in mind:
#1 Every person you meet has a story. Make sure you listen for it. In other words, don’t try to tell everyone how awesome you are. Seek to listen.
#2 At conferences, there are often circles of people swirling around the famous blogger, the CEO or the rock-star product team. If you want to chat with those people, go ahead, but the smaller groups of people who support those other high-level people can be even more interesting. Valuable connections are everywhere.
#3 If you’re just waiting for someone to finish speaking so you can say something, go back to #1.
#4 If your goal is to connect with someone from Startup X, take an empty glass and walk toward the bar purposefully. Meanwhile, scan the name tags you pass (and tee shirts if it’s a more casual conference), looking for Startup X’s name. When you spot someone from the company, extend your hand and say, “I was hoping to meet someone from Startup X. I’m Jane.”
4. Clear the deck before you leave
Of course, you will probably have work that can’t wait for your return, but as much as humanly possible, move the big things off of your plate the week before the conference. Set up helpful “out of office” messaging. Keep texting to a minimum with colleagues if at all possible. Be present.
5. Take care of yourself, practically speaking
Traveling for work can be a slog, so make sure you’re taking care of yourself. Pack running shoes, water, hand sanitizer, healthy snacks and business cards. Take it easy on the free chardonnay and don’t forget to get plenty of sleep. When you return to the office, send a quick note to your manager or team with a list of the top five things you learned at the conference. Include links to resources that were shared with you that would be helpful for your team. And if you plan to go again to the same conference, mark it on your 2016 calendar. Finally, send LinkedIn invites to people you met with a short, personalized note.
Are you conference-bound anytime soon? Tell us where you are going, below!
Olga is a Senior Manager in Marketing and Sales Operations at Connectivity.