14 Tips on Getting the Most Out Of A Conference


Happy Tuesday everyone!

I’m sitting here at the Hyatt regency in Chicago waiting for the  HOW Interactive Design Conference to start. I’ve been looking forward to this event for months now. I’ll be live tweeting today with hashtag #HIDC and will do blog post recaps for each day. Follow me on twitter to get in on the action! (or stick on the blog and see the feed in the side bar)

A lot of people don’t go to conferences because they don’t see the worth in spending the money, but I’m here to tell you that with conferences, much like most things, are all about what you put into them. Jeremy Widen, a freelance film maker, networking guru, and my partner in crime said,

“No matter what field you’re in conferences and conventions are extremely valuable assets. But, if you’re in a creative field (film, music, design, etc), they’re not only valuable but are crucial. There is no easier way to make connections, learn about current industry trends, get great deals, and have an amazing time than by going to conventions.”

Here are some things you can do to make the most out of conferences.


Get Friendly
Starting with the basics: Conferences are for people gathering over a common passion. People go to conferences expecting to network, so don’t be shy. You’re not bothering them, so if you sit down next to someone, introduce yourself.
Use social media to connect with people at the event. Jeremy used twitter to his full advantage:
“Before [NAB] I made a point of kicking my twittering into high gear. This meant that I was meeting people before I got to Vegas, and when it came time to mingle with other filmmakers, it was like I already knew them. That allowed our conversations to skip a lot of the pleasantries and get right to having a good time and discussing filmmaking.”
Be prepared
Save the event hash tags and follow all the speakers on twitter ahead of time, so that tweeting about them will be much quicker.
Leave a Lasting Impression
Give out business cards like crazy (to both businesses and individuals). Writing a personal note on it somewhere reminds your new connection of where you met them, making it likely that they will keep your card and contact you. Tip: add your @handle on your card for easy following. I did this at the How Freelance Conference and notice a huge spike in followers during and after the event.
Go Above and Beyond
If you know a potential employer will be there, make a promotional packet to hand out after you chat them up. I designed one for Jeremy to take with him and find potential jobs the year before we moved to Chicago. They were a huge hit, making him very memorable. For info on what goes into a great self promotional pieces check out my part one and part two posts.

Give Shout Outs
One easy way to tell people you’re a networking master is to broadcast it. Sending a thank you tweet to someone you met or friendly “nice meeting @soandso in the drink line on the floor! #eventname”  is both continuing the conversation as well as saying “look I’m friendly and I’m actively engaged”.
Ask Questions
When there’s an opportunity for a Q&A session, be sure to have a question on hand. If you’re really shy, go up to the speaker in person and ask. You can also ask via twitter and see who responds. Maybe someone else was wondering the same thing!
Say “Thank You”
Similar to asking questions, after every speaker, I always go up and say thank you and try to slip the speaker my business card. Try to connect on a personal level, so that when you request a connection on linked in they remember you and approve.
Take it Off Line 
The difference between just “meeting a bunch of new people who you’ll never speak to a gain” and building new professional relationships is taking the conversation off-line and out of the conference. Find a lunch or dinner buddy/group on twitter. The real networking happens after the event, when you get a chance to really talk about it over drinks and laughs.
Give the Floor Booth People Some Love
Don’t just grab the swag and head for the door, chat with the floor booth people (you might get a deal out of it) like Jeremy did:
“I also went into the show with the plan to purchase a camera. Instead of looking at prices online, and having to call each retailer individually, I was able to price check and talk with every retailer at once. The face to face meant that I could also talk to the sales reps on a personal level. The best part of buying equipment at conferences is the deals. Often times retailers, or manufacturers themselves, will be offering large percentages off.”
Make Memories
Jeremy, having gone to quite a few more conferences than I has mastered the art of mingling after hours. He says:
“With large conventions a lot of the magic happens “after hours.” At NAB filmmakers meet after the show floor closes for drinks, dinner, and [because it’s] in Vegas, gambling. But in all of the fun, you’re expanding your network, and I’ve had some of the deepest discussions about the future of film by going to an after party and sitting down with a glass of scotch with some amazing peers. Without twitter and putting myself out there on the show floor I wouldn’t have ever experienced this.”

Document everything

Live Tweet 
When listening to a speaker, a big part of the discussion is happening on twitter live. By tweeting quotes, concepts and recaps during the events, i.e. live tweeting, your industry peers will have a higher likelihood of them following you and connecting with you outside of the conference. The tweets also serve and a reference for blog recaps posts later.
Take photos of everything
Tweeting photos have an even higher chance of getting re-tweeted, thus extending your viewership and potential following base.
Blog about it
Blogging about what you see and hear, who you meet, all the new knowledge and even the cool free stuff you pick up will show people you were there and you are a participator. Why is this important? Because when people see that you’re active in your industry, they want to connect with you and maybe one day remember you when they have a job they can’t take.

Follow Up

The last little touch is to connect with all these amazing people you’ve met on twitter and linked in. Say thank you to speakers who spoke and gave you sage advice, and continue the conversation with strangers who you connected with. Don’t let these new relationships die. Schedule phone calls to catch up, ask questions, or collaborate on a passion project.
The whole point of going to conferences is essentially to grow. You grow when you learn and are inspired by what the speakers have to say and you grow by making lasting relationships with passionate peers.