Are You Wasting Your Money on Tech Conferences?
If you're not making meaningful connections, you might as well not go. Read on to get some tips on how to make conference connections that last.
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As each year passes, it's easy to find ourselves tripping over conference planning, agendas, speaker submissions, and accommodation listings. Barely a week passes in Europe or the US without a conference, expo, trade show, summit, or talk. There are more than a few people who, like professional hackathon competitors, spend a good part of each calendar year carrying a souvenir tote bag and wearing a lanyard at a convention center.
Conferences are great, you can listen to world-renowned speakers, connect with friends from around the world, and meet potential clients, customers, and investors. Especially when you’re in tech, the sheer number of events that you can attend in the hope of opening opportunities for your business is staggering. But not all events are created equal and it’s worth taking a careful look at what you can expect to get out of them as either an attendee or exhibitor. This year I attended a bunch of conferences (you can check out my recommendartions for 2019.) Here are some tips that I've learned along the way.
Schedule and Prioritize
It’s worth taking a look each year at the international conferences in your sector and writing up a tentative schedule in a shared calendar in your workplace. Take a look at the themes, topics, and speakers of last year and this year to get a feel for each event. Then take a look at what the rest of your schedule looks like during these times. It can be tempting to focus on big conferences like CES, IFA, and Web Summit, but depending on your specific sector you may get more benefit from smaller events and niche trade shows.
Look well in advance, especially if you are aiming for speaking slots, as most conferences schedule at least six months prior to the event.
It’s also worth paying careful attention to events scheduled in your home city. Even if you don’t attend all of them, it enables you to keep tabs on satellite events, visiting speakers, and free social events.
What Do You Aim to Achieve?
Consider prior to each event what your purpose is in attending. Is it to increase your company's profile, get customers, build your database, network, seek investors, or something else? What can you do to achieve these aims?
The Next Web surveyed a number of startups in 2014 and found that 66 percent of C-level founders attended up to 10 such conferences in the past two years. Their aims were exposure, meaningful biz-dev opportunities, investors, recruitment, and connection to influencers. Yet, 70 percent of them never achieved any of these goals. And while 100 percent of them exchanged business cards, and over 90 percent followed up on relevant leads, more than 60 percent said nothing substantial came out of it. How will you translate meetings and conversations into business triumphs?
Before You Attend Your Next Conference
Whether you are going as an attendee or an exhibitor, here are my top tips:
- Read the program carefully and draw up a list of who you want to listen to, meet, etc.
- Contact them with plenty of advance notice (especially journalists!). Offer a range of contact details as conference wifi is notoriously bad. Yes, there will be an app but it will probably be crap and ignored by most.
- Out of conference meetings are also completely fine, especially if you invite those you want to meet to join you for drinks or an event.
- If you want quiet, private meeting spaces, book those in advance so you have somewhere to chat. No one likes to be pitched whilst they are lining up for the cash machine or toilet in lieu of a meeting.
- Take time to walk through the exhibition floor, it’s a great way to get a feel for trends and interesting businesses.
- Don’t underestimate side events, everyone likes a chance to unwind and people are more likely to be open to a chat with a beverage in hand.
- Give yourself plenty of breaks, drink at least as much water as booze, and get a decent amount of sleep.
- Be open to starting a conversation anytime and anywhere. Waiting for beer, in the line for a lanyard? Go for it. Wear a company t-shirt or at least a badge. Brownie points if you talk about something besides your business!
- Be active on social media during the conference. Make sure you tweet and use the right #hashtags.
Follow-Up Is Critical
Last, but definitely not the least, after the conference, follow-up with the people you met at the conference. Some of these will be a proforma kind of email newsletter, others more personal. Offer to connect people with others that may be helpful, send them the link to that band you were talking about, or the obscure recipe for chili chocolate milkshakes. Building connections can have lasting effects, sometimes in a very good way.
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