I’m usually behind the scenes at conferences – helping clients find conferences to attend or speak at, or assisting with their presentations and booth set-ups.
So whenever I attend a conference or large event, it makes me think about the differences between being an attendee and being a vendor, a sponsor, or a company with an exhibitor booth. No matter what role you play at a conference, you still have to plan accordingly.
Prepare before you go
Are you looking for a general overview or do you need to come back with product information that can solve a company problem? Make sure you know your objectives in advance of attending a conference.
Conferences have the agenda set months in advance, which gives you plenty of time to check out who is going to be there.
- Do a little research on some of the companies that sound interesting to you.
- Know what areas you want to visit and what you want to see – don’t spend time trying to stop by every single booth or space.
- Register for the breakout sessions ahead of time, they fill up fast and you don’t want to miss out on a great speaker.
Do something different
In a crowded conference, how do you stand out? Your competitors may have similar colors as your logo and vendors may be offering similar products, but highlight the areas that make your organization unique.
If you really want to stand out from the crowd, think about taking your presence to the next level.
- Tailor your message to the conference audience. Whether they’re entry level professionals or C-suite decision makers, you want your message to get across clearly.
- Get the attendees engaged to create a lasting impression. Go beyond your basic conference materials – table cover, banners, and backdrop – and create an experience for those walking by. Perhaps your organization just released a whitepaper, or maybe you want to raffle off a big-ticket item, getting your target audience to remember you is key.
- Understanding your value proposition at the conference and knowing your goals will make interactions with attendees go smoothly. Determine what insights you want them to learn and what you want to get them to do.
If you really want to stand out from the crowd, think about taking your presence to the next level and creating an event with the conference organizer – think outside the booth and create your own opportunity. Do you sell a product that people can see/hear/touch/smell/taste? Host a demonstration. Want real-time feedback on your work? Host an interactive panel discussion.
Not networking is NOT an option
Conferences are where people come together, so make sure you take the time to network. Meeting new people in your industry is a great way to make connections and market your brand even without a large [paid] presence.
- Take time between speaking and breakout sessions to put yourself out there and pitch your company.
- During lunch, sit with people other than your colleagues to gain exposure.
Networking is free and can be valuable to you and your work.
Evaluate and learn
At the end of your conference, ask yourself a few questions to evaluate the experience.
- How was your space setup compared to your competitors?
- Is there an opportunity to take on a bigger role next year?
- Did the conference organizers set the right expectations?
- Was the content valuable?
There’s always room for improvement, so evaluating your performance is important – it will help you determine if the effort was worth the investment and how to leverage it better in coming years – not only at the conference you attended but at others as well.
Conferences are exciting. There are new products, an opportunity to connect with industry professionals, and thought leadership to be gained and shared. However, they are expensive and time consuming. Make sure you plan, position and network to make them a powerful and worthwhile investment.