Building a network of connections who inspire you and/or generate leads is invaluable for any firm looking to grow. Outside the office, away from day-to-day business, conferences play a huge role in creating these connections.
But conferences get a bad reputation for the high costs associated with attending or presenting. While you might have budget assigned to conferences, you only want to spend those funds if you’re confident you’ll leave with new (and useful) contacts and motivation for future ventures.
Before you sign up, ask yourself these questions.
What are you looking to achieve?
‘Conference’ is a fairly catch-all phrase. What are you hoping to achieve there? If it’s generating commercial leads, you need to think about what your prospects do, not what you do. Instead of attending a web design conference as a web design agency, focus on the industries of your potential clients – retail or healthcare, for example. If it’s funds you want, try conferences like Websummit or TC Disrupt which are geared towards start-ups and investors. For innovation and knowledge sharing, search for conferences that are niche to your sector, with as narrow a focus as possible.
Who do you want to talk to?
Create a ‘target’ list before attending the event. You should have around 100 names if you’re looking to get 10 meetings in the diary. If there aren’t many people on the attendee list that match up to this, it may be a sign that the conference isn’t for you.
Get in touch with your potential contacts a few weeks before the conference and ask for a specific section of their time – even if you’re not able to secure a slot, they’ll recognise you from your emails.
Post-conference, divide your new contacts into groups:
- high-priority, to contact in the next couple of days
- medium-priority, in the next week or two
- low-priority contacts for the month to come
Can you do it at home?
The value of attending conferences stems from the people you meet. But many of those contacts can be found far closer to home. Try a platform like Meetup to build your local network.
If you’re looking to learn, start by researching the speakers you’re interested in. Their blog, videos or Slideshares will often cover most of the material that would form the foundation of their talk.
Gather more information on whether the conference is worth attending by searching Twitter to find mentions of last year’s event, and getting in touch with those people.
What will you gain?
Have a clear vision in mind of what you want to leave with. Presenting or running a stand isn’t always the best way to meet prospects – it can limit your networking to who comes to you (rather than who you approach). Go to a conference intending to use what you’ve learnt in a practical way, and start applying your new-found techniques or knowledge before you leave.
By putting one of the things you’ve learnt into practice before you go home, rather than taking copious notes that will never be applied, you can measure the impact of the conference on your business as soon as you return.