Imagine hoards of people all inside your industry, looking to partner with you in mutually profitable deals and businesses. It’s the stuff where massive opportunities come from, and if you play your cards right, your next business conference could very well bring your next big business opportunity.
You may be forced to go to a business conference for work, but you have to keep in mind just how many opportunities such a conference brings. You’ll meet people who are as passionate about the topic at hand as you are. They are people who you can often lean on for free tips or advice about something you’re working on. They are often people who are looking for the kind of products or services that you offer. They are also usually the people who also make hiring decisions when looking for someone new to hire for their company.
So, if you like to have plenty of options available should a career change opportunity ever come up, having these business contacts within the industry can’t hurt!
The following are 7 ways to optimize your trip and get the most out of that business conference.
#1. Print Out Business Cards and Materials
The first thing to consider, since it could take a week or two to get it all together, is the promotional material that you’re going to need when you meet people at the conference. These might be business cards, thumb drives with promotional presentations and your company materials, branded pens, t-shirts – seriously, anything that you think you’ll have an opportunity to give away and promote yourself or your company. Get it all ready weeks before the conference.
#2. Make Your Travel Stress-Free
Another thing to start around the time when you’re ordering your business materials is to book your travel. Do it early so that you don’t have to worry about it while you’re focusing on the more important business matters of your trip.
Buying plane tickets? Take Joel’s advice and time your plane ticket purchases perfectly to save cash. Use a service like Google Flights, a cheap airfare finder which Hammad reviewed previously, to cut down on your flight costs.
You also should make your hotel reservations ahead of time. A good approach is using hotel search engines to find really good deals near the conference.
And, if you do make the mistake of waiting until the last minute — don’t freak out. We’ve got you covered with some last minute booking sites that can help you grab some really good hotel deals.
#3. Research People Who Are Attending
Now that you have your materials and travel plans arranged, stop worrying about the trip itself. It’s time to focus on the conference, and the people who will be attending. Typically, the organization putting on the conference will publish full bios of the people who are doing presentations or managing a booth at a conference. Take advantage of these bios to identify key people in the industry who you could learn the most from, or otherwise gain a deeper reach into the industry by establishing a business relationship with them.
In addition to presenters, there are likely going to be a whole lot of industry folks attending the event, and many of them are going to talk about it on social networks, they’re going to blog about it, and whatever else they can do to let people know that they are involved and active in events like this. Speaking of which, you should be doing that too…but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Search Google for blogs where people are talking about attending the upcoming conference. Search Twitter and browse on Facebook for public posts about the conference. Once you find people who are attending, go ahead and contact them. Let them know you’re going to be there and ask them what events at the conference they’re most excited about.
Not only will you probably learn some inside secrets about the best events at the conference itself, but you might even establish a group of people who you can hang out with while you’re there — which really will make the experience a whole lot better, and you’ll probably make some really good friends in the process.
#4. Research Agenda Locations and Schedule
Most conference organizers will publish a conference agenda ahead of time on a website or a brochure before the event. Get that agenda as far ahead of time as possible so you can use it to arrange your entire itinerary around the conference events.
A conference can be a hectic time with not only conference events to schedule, but you’ll likely be invited to dinner with people you meet each day. There will probably be special sessions that you can sign up for during the conference, and you probably would like to explore the area — especially if you’re visiting a new city to attend the conference.
Planning ahead is key. Building an entire calendar for the event with all blocks of time filled in will give you a better idea of what blocks of time you have available to schedule in other things you want to do. And, if you have the event agenda at your fingertips, it’s less likely that you’ll forget about an important session and miss out on it.
#5. Get Your Online Persona in Order
Once you’re at the conferences and you start doing the whole meet and greet thing, handing out business cards and all of that, people are sure to start checking you out based on the info on your promotional materials. That might include your Twitter feed, your blog or your company. In preparation of that barrage of visitors checking out who you are and what you do, make sure you’ve sent out plenty of social updates about the event and what you’re planning to do there.
You’ll also want to update your blog with a few timely posts, preferably displaying your expertise in the industry and something significant that you’ve accomplished recently. This could be some recent project you finished or a prize or award that you won.
The goal here is for people to recognize that you’re an expert at what you do, and that you’d make for a valuable addition to their contact list. The idea here is to build your point of contacts across the industry — the more contacts you have, the more business leads you develop and the more opportunities that will open up for you in the future.
#6. Remember to Optimize Free Learning Opportunities
P.S. – You might want to go up to your room on Friday during “learning day”, but seriously, how many opportunities do you have to get free training these days? Sure, there are lots of opportunities to take free courses online , but I’m talking about an in-class, instructor-led class? At many of these business conferences, the sponsors and vendors involved will often provide free sit-down 1-day or partial-day classes that cover some product or service that they offer to people in your industry.
Sure, some of them may be meant as a sales promotional pitch for their product, but much of the time the class itself could be pretty interesting and it could introduce you to products, techniques or ideas to accomplish things in your job that you probably never would have thought about. So, instead of skipping out on those classes so you can go off and have fun in the city, do the smart thing and hang around. You may learn a thing or two.
#7. Social Events Are Not All Fun & Games
It’s very easy to fall into a routine at a conference where you just spend all your time attending the sessions, visiting booths and dining out each night on your own. Don’t make the mistake of missing an opportunity to network with people every chance you get. Chat with people. Strike up conversations. Ask them to go somewhere for dinner to talk more. Ask several people.
Seriously, most people spend the bulk of their working hours behind a desk…well…working. How many opportunities do you get to talk with other people from other companies who do the same kind of work you do? How often do you have an opportunity to get tips and advice, or to offer helpful tips to other people in your field?
And when the conference if over, it doesn’t end there. Follow up with emails to those people you met. Tell them how great it was to meet and give them an opportunity to contact you back and stay in touch. These are how lasting, mutually beneficial professional relationships are formed.
These are just a few tips to get the most out of your upcoming business conference. Plan ahead, prepare your materials, and take full advantage of the chance to network with people in your industry, and you may be very surprised what opportunities come your way.