Getting The Most From Your Conference Experience
As with all things marketing, we're always looking to get the most bang for our buck. Conferences are no exception. Columnist Amy Bishop shares tips to ensure that you get a strong return on your investment.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! And by that, I mean, conferences are under way for 2016.
There’s no doubt — or there shouldn’t be — that conferences are a great way to expand your knowledge and your network within the digital marketing community. But to truly get the most out of attending events, you have to be sure that you are making the most of the opportunity.
Limit Your Distractions
One of the most obvious, but still most prevalent, hindrances of capitalizing on content is self-inflicted: work. We’re all guilty of it.
You open up your laptop to send one quick email, but then another catches your eye, and soon enough, you find yourself pulling a report. Before you know it, the first speaker has finished and the second speaker is being introduced, but you can’t really remember any of the first speaker’s key points.
In general, each person usually speaks for about 17 minutes, sometimes longer — depending on the scheduling format. Seventeen minutes is really easy to burn through simply by looking at email or checking in on some stats.
Even if the speaker has more time — up to 45 minutes in some sessions — the point remains: You can easily short yourself a big chunk of the presentation.
To get the most out of your conference experience, you have to make a concerted effort to set work aside so that you can focus on the topic at hand.
Challenge Yourself To Apply Strategies And Tactics
It’s pretty easy to listen somewhat passively to sessions. Maybe you sat in on a topic because you liked it, but then as the presenter started talking, you found yourself thinking things like, “Well, I’m not an e-comm, so that doesn’t apply to me” or “Compliance would never let me run that ad copy.”
Before you know it, you’re writing off ideas and strategies because the business in the example doesn’t perfectly align with yours.
Challenge yourself to take the ideas, strategies and tactics, and find ways to tweak them for your business. Ask yourself these questions:
- What’s the goal of the strategy/idea/tactic?
- What’s the key point?
- Why did they do what they did, and how did they decide to do it?
Your thought process surrounding the answers to the questions above will help you to uncover the connections between what the presenter did and how to apply the same principle within your account.
If it doesn’t, don’t be afraid to catch up with the speaker after the show and chat about how he or she might apply a similar strategy to your business.
Take Notes, And Grab The Decks, Too
Some presenters (including me) tend to go through material pretty quickly. The pace of the session generally leads to the coverage of a lot of ideas in a short amount of time.
Many conferences upload all of the presentations so that you are certain to have access to them later. If the conference doesn’t organize the distribution of slides, the speaker will generally mention whether or not they’ll be available for download later (and they almost always are).
In addition to downloading the slides, I suggest taking notes regarding any ideas, thoughts, or even questions from the Q&A that aren’t included in the slides.
Taking notes is a great way to make sure that you’re actively paying attention and, depending on your learning style, can be a great way to commit ideas to memory (If not, you’ll be glad you have the notes, right?).
It can be tempting for presenters to load up their presentations with text so that attendees will have all of the context later, but let’s face it, the text-heavy presentations can be a little bit grueling to sit through. Taking notes ensures that you have all of the context later.
On the flip side, it’s almost impossible to jot down every point that the speaker mentions. So if you can get the deck later, save your forearms and fingers the pain of trying to close-caption the entire presentation, and just take notes for context, ideas and examples that weren’t included.
Downloading the deck later will give you a chance to flip back through all of the bigger key ideas and topics that were mentioned.
Network, Network And Network
Networking is a huge benefit of conferences. No matter your role, everybody has something to gain from expanding their professional network. There are a ton of ways to take advantage of networking opportunities. Here are a few:
- Seek out a breakfast or lunch table with the intention of meeting new people.
- Seek out speakers to discuss topics that you enjoyed, share your ideas or clarify questions.
- Seek out people who asked questions in sessions you attended to discuss the question and share your ideas (Are you seeing a pattern here?).
- Round up a group of people to get dinner or a drink between the conference and the next networking event.
- Attend the networking events and actively seek out new people to talk with. The great thing about networking events is that everyone is there for the same reason: (Drumroll, please) to network!
You’ll notice that almost every single bullet included the same action verb “seek out…” Sometimes you’ll get lucky enough to be sought out, but to really maximize your networking efforts, you have to be deliberate.
It’s easier said than done if you have introverted tendencies (Trust me, I hear you!), but I like to try to set small goals for myself so that I’m very aware of the number of people I’ve deliberately approached.
Keep The Momentum Going
Sadly, the conference is over, and everybody has gone home. You’re probably slammed because, between the days you were at the conference and your travel time, you’ve been more or less out-of-pocket for the better part of a week.
In your rush to catch up on the work that you’ve missed, your conference learnings just might take the back burner, or worse, slip your mind altogether. Of all the potential pitfalls causing you to miss the opportunities offered by your conference experience, this is one of the most basic, but also one of the most dangerous.
One of the best ways to keep the momentum going post-conference, is to involve your clients and co-workers in discussions about the new ideas that you’ve brought back. Those discussions don’t require much effort in addition to the catching up that you’re already doing, and they can help get the ball rolling on new strategies.