24 Feb 2015

A Survivor’s Guide to Attending a Marketing Conference

Congratulations! You’re on your way to or sitting at an upcoming industry conference representing your company or your brand. Attending a conference can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience or the worst experience of your life. The greatest determining factor to having a great time, however, is YOU!

Here at Vertical Measures, we want everyone on our team to have the best time possible while out repping our brand, shaking hands and kissing babies. Surviving a marketing conference comes down to three key things:

  1. Work the room before you’re in the room
  2. Keep your finger on the pulse of the event
  3. Follow up!

In this survivors guide, we’ll share our tips, recommendations and best practices for getting the most of our any marketing conference. Add to the conversation by sharing your best marketing conference attendance tips below too!

Goal for Marketing Conferences

At Vertical Measures we choose individuals to attend conferences whom we know will gain the most insight from the material presented. Learn, share and implement are the actions that should be take-aways. Consider using this opportunity to develop your network of industry peers, represent your own brand positively and get the most out of this rare time with other marketers.

Setting specific and actionable goals before you head out to a conference help you make the most of your time. Think about what you want to accomplish. Some may attend a conference simply to network and meet new prospects. Others go in with the intention of learning all they can and finding industry mentors. Be sure to think about what you hope to accomplish and set goals that encourage those accomplishments.

Arnie Kuenn at Content Marketing World
If you’re going with the intention of meeting industry experts, set a goal of getting 10 business cards from marketing leaders. Set yet another goal of achieving a follow on Twitter from at least 5 new contacts. There are many goals you can set and while it’s alluring to skip this step: don’t. Making goals will help you achieve more!

Actions Before You Leave

A few weeks and months leading up to your conference can be critical. This is the time when you have a chance to digest what the conference is about, prepare for your time there and even do a bit of networking before you even get in the room!

Learn about the conference. We highly recommend doing a bit of research about the actual conference agenda, session tracks, location, history of the event and information on the conference website.

Schedule your calendar. Once you’ve learned about what the conference has to offer set up your own itinerary or calendar, outlining all the specific of the sessions you wish to attend. This will help you stay on track when at the conference. It can be very easy to get off course, miss a session or get delayed from attending an important workshop if you’re disorganized.

Work the room before you enter the room. Find groups on LinkedIn or hashtags on Twitter which help you see who is attending. Try networking with these individuals with intentions to meet at the conference. Other conference attendees may have groups set up on Twitter, allowing for easy following of speakers and attendees. Set yourself up by adding RSS feeds, bookmarking websites and getting hashtags handy for the day of.

Bring your business cards and important documents. You’ll be meeting a whole new group of industry professionals so bring business cards to hand out. Have an elevator pitch ready: who are you, what do you do and what your company does. You’ll be asked this many times so it’s best to be prepared with something concrete to say such as, “My name is Kaila and I oversee an awesome group of internet marketers at Vertical Measures. We’re a content marketing company based in Phoenix.”

Keep the pulse of the conference in mind. I’ve been to conferences that are super high energy, think parties every night and keynotes in early mornings. Then I’ve been to other conferences that are much lower key, where I had a chance to have private workshops with professionals learning more hands-on about marketing outside of the conference setting. Usually social media is the best spot to know what type of conference you’re attending.

Each type of conference have their value of course. By monitoring social media, pre-networking and staying aware of what the conference had to offer you can get invited to some amazing things too! From free limo rides to four course sponsored meals, you’d be surprised the types of things you can score (and people you meet of course!) by keeping a pulse on what’s going on.

Before You Leave 

  • Did you pre-network?
  • Did you choose your sessions yet?
  • Have you met with your internal team to discuss expenses?
  • Have you printed off all your required documents?
  • Do you have computer or notepad & pen for taking notes?
  • Have you scheduled any meet ups yet?
  • Do you have business cards (generic or title specific)?
  • Are you prepped with an elevator pitch?
  • Did you turn on your ‘out-of-office’ email?
  • Have you alerted your team to any coverage needs?

During the Conference

Arnie at conferenceChecking into the hotel, attending conference registration on time, going to sessions and managing your hour to hour activities are completely 100% your responsibility during the conference. It can seem enticing to sleep in and avoid going to keynote addresses or avoid the catered breakfast each morning. These are the best times, however, to network and learn and you should strive to attend on time every day. Do what you can to get up on time and be there first thing every morning.

Take notes during the sessions you attend. In the “After the Conference” section of this guide we recommend using your notes to present to staff or individuals in your sphere of influence that may find the information you gleaned worthwhile. A large part of learning and being an expert is being able to teach what you learn. This has served me well over the years, I highly recommend it for you and your staff.

Be prepared with pen and paper just in case. As a computer or notebook to take notes of course. Wifi is not guaranteed at these venues and bandwidth is usually spotty. Access to outlets is in high demand so make sure you have batteries charged, backup internet available and a pad of paper just in case.

Monitor conference hashtags#, twitter accounts and Facebook pages during the event. Retweet others, start following conference attendees, or tweet out to individuals. Keep your eye out for secret industry meetups, free dinners and free swag. VM employees have been invited to private parties, free limo rides and five star dinners as a result of social networking.

Get swag! The exhibit hall at conferences, if applicable, are where the vendors have tradeshow booths. Free swag, tool demonstrations and networking opportunities are in the exhibit hall. Attend a few times during the conference, drop your business card in to win some great prizes as well. Just know – you’re likely to get a call after from someone trying to sell you something.

Whenever possible give out a card and take a card. In our office we ask our staff to network and hand out business cards, getting business cards in return and logging them in our CRM system. This isn’t necessarily something you absolutely have to do, but one of the benefits of networking is the possibility of landing a client. Work those business cards after the event too – part of our after conference suggestions below.

After the Conference

Sharing information with others is an important part of attending a conference. We’re busy day to day and don’t have the opportunity to devote to learning for extended periods of time. You have the opportunity to at industry conferences, share what you learn!

After the conference we ask our team to present what you learn to a group. This can be in a variety of forms, some ideas we suggest to the team are listed below. Choose a presentation style that fits your comfort level, prepare and present within a month of attending a conference so it’s fresh in your mind.

  1. Top Take Aways: create a blog post (like this one about Digital Summit Phoenix on our blog) about your top takeaways, following best practice guidelines and publish on your corporate blog.
  2. Presentation: put together PowerPoint slides and present during company meeting and/or secondary meeting with a group, 5+ minute presentation.
  3. Stand Up: free form stand up 5+ minute presentation to the group at company meeting.
  4. Document: provide group with digital document (PDF, Word or other format acceptable) with your information organized and applicable to specific departments via e-mail. Must be more than notes and 3+ pages.
blog conference essentials

via TheSmallThingsBlog.com

Additional Tips to Surviving a Conference

  • Use this opportunity wisely. Sending individuals to conferences is expensive, use it or you lose it policy applies here often at most companies. Don’t be THAT person who causes conferences to be banned from your company.
  • We often remind individuals that they have signed a nondisclosure form upon acceptance of employment at most companies. That means you cannot expressly share client names with others outside of your company – in most cases. There are of course exceptions to this rule, so ask your manager if you’re not sure what the policy is at your company.
  • Think about your fellow coworkers in all departments. Ear mark tools, resources and information you think is appropriate for your peers that you learn at the conference you attend.
  • Not a social person? Force yourself to meet at least 5 new people during the conference. Drop a pen near a group of individuals and introduce yourself, an awesome tip I learned from a colleague years ago overcoming her fear of networking. Sit at a lunch table with a new group of individuals. Stay after a session and shake hands with a speaker. Sit up front in a session and ask a question of the neighbor to your left. These are all strategies to help you meet new individuals, put yourself out there and take advantage of all benefits of the conference.
  • How you represent your company is important and how you use this opportunity is important to your career.
  • Bonus tip: bring a charger, extension cord and any other data cables you can think of. You’ll be someone’s best friend and meet new people, trust me on this one!

 Conference Resources

120+ Business, Online Marketing and Tech Conferences for 2015

Top 100 Digital Conferences You Should Attend in 2015

8 Ways to Maximize the Value of Online and In-Person Events

2015 Marketing Conferences

Attending your next conference should be fun, exciting and have an impact on your career. With this survival guide our hope is you’ll improve your effectiveness at conferences, take full advantage and bring value to your company as you attend marketing and tech conferences this year. Tips we missed? Feel free in the comments below.