Overwhelmed by Big Conferences? Make Them Smaller
We’ve all been there – you walk into a convention center with thousands of people milling about and you realize just how challenging the next few days will be. As a corporate event manager, I know that massive conferences can be daunting for anyone onsite. From the throngs of people, hundreds of vendor booths, and multiple track agendas it’s pretty amazing that any business gets accomplished.
Conferences frequently have fabulous speakers, and you often can learn quite a bit from their sessions, but the main purpose of attending is networking. You have a short span of time to meet as many people as possible. Keith Ferrazzi is the master of networking and relationships. In his book Never Eat Alone he goes in depth about how to maximize your conference attendance as a “conference commando.”
Ferrazzi gives 15 tips to being a conference commando, and while all of his tips are excellent, I’d like to focus on a few of his tips where you can lean on your marketing team or event managers. Researching attendees and agenda topics, striking early, dinner events, and being an info-hub are all things that can be time consuming which is why you should utilize your marketing and event managers prior to each conference.
In advance of a conference Event Managers are usually given a list of registered attendees, but be aware this list may not include all of the information you require. Almost every conference will provide company name and title of attendees, and if you’re really lucky they’ll give you their contact information. Ask your marketing team for this list and a list of speakers. Highlight your priority targets and see if you can acquire contact details. Research your targets. As Ferrazzi suggests – Google them. “Do some deeper research to learn about their human sides. Then find your currency for them – your experience, knowledge, contacts, or resources that can make them more successful.”
Review the conference agenda and research topic areas. Formulate questions in advance of the sessions. Ferrazzi’s tip is to “acquire a 30 second commercial” for your company “just by asking a thoughtful question during Q&A. Stand tall, say your name and what you do, and then ask a great question. Then enjoy your celebrity status after the session. People will be eager to approach you once you’ve been introduced in a public forum.” Need help formulating thought provoking questions? Ask your marketing team to review the agenda with you and discuss potential options.
Once you’ve done your research on who you’d like to meet while at the conference, you should reach out in advance. Scheduling meetings in advance will allow you to better manage your schedule. You can have your marketing team send out an email to your current contacts as well as prospects to schedule 10 to 15 minute catch ups throughout the conference.
Ferrazzi also suggests that if you can’t get past the gatekeepers “surprise them with a fax or a voice message when they arrive at the conference and save them from spending the night alone in their rooms – most likely in the same hotel where you’re staying! Say ‘I’ll be downstairs at 8 with a few people for dinner and drinks. Would you like to join us?’”
“Arrange a dinner at a special place out on the town you’re visiting with people who care about a particular topic that matters to you.” Make the conference smaller by having an intimate dinner with some of the targets you researched prior to the event. Ask your marketing team to assist you with scheduling an offsite dinner, creating custom invitations to send in advance or to handout onsite, and be sure to follow up with your targets once you have sent an invitation.
If offsite dinners aren’t an option due to a tight conference agenda with gala dinners included Ferrazzi recommends that you “modify a conference meal that’s already paid for by inviting specific people to join your table as you meet them during the day.”
Be an Info-Hub “Get really familiar with the conference program. Then pick the brains of conference staff and anyone else willing to share the ins and outs of what’s happening in and around the big meeting. If you’re in the loop on the private parties and after-hours special events, everyone will come to you for the goods,” says Ferrazzi. Ask your marketing team to make introductions to the onsite conference organizers in advance of the event .Begin building that relationship in advance of the conference and save some time!
This may seem like a lot of work (because it is!), but making potentially hundreds of connections in a matter of days makes it worth the effort. For the rest of Keith Ferrazzi’s tips be sure to readNever Eat Alone. I’ve found this book to be a tremendous resource for Sales, Marketing, and career advancement. As it pertains to conferences, Ferrazzi offers some free resources on this site.