Marketing events by any name – conferences, summits, expos – are a valuable tool for any marketer. The speakers are some of the best in their fields; you’re able to grow your professional network with peers from across the country (and sometimes the world); you can pick the brains of countless people; and you get to come home with a bag full of free swag.
There’s a lot to do and a lot to learn, which means things can get overwhelming. Here are three tips to help you get the most out of your event experience.
The time to think about a marketing event should start long before the actual event. Marketing events span the entirety of the industry: some touch briefly on a number of topics but others specialize in subjects ranging from SEO to branding to social networks. It may seem obvious, but when you’re researching events, make sure you know what they’re about.
If you’re looking into a conference that covers a lot of topics make sure it’s worth your time (and money!). Look at the descriptions of all of the panels and speakers; there might be hints that their content will be more in-depth than the subject suggests. Similarly, if an event is centered around a particular subject, there might still be information that will be tangentially discussed that would make attending worthwhile.
Marketing events are fantastic tools for networking not just with fellow attendees but with the thought leaders who will be presenting.
Besides looking at what will be talked about, it’s important to see who will be speaking. Marketing events are fantastic tools for networking not just with fellow attendees but with the thought leaders who will be presenting. Even if you’re already well-versed in a topic, meeting the speaker could be your goal. It’s a great way to network or discuss another topic of interest.
Once you decide to go to a convention, you should then decide on your agenda. If you’ve already looked at the speakers you’ll have a good idea of where you want to go when you get there. Conventions can be hectic when there’s a lot to fit in in the span of only a few days, though. Some events will even have multiple “tracks” so presentations can run simultaneously. Knowing where to go, and when, throughout the convention will leave you less likely to be running around and give you more time to actually attend presentations.
If you’re a digital marketer, you’re already well versed in the tech world: you know the latest industry news, you use all of the most popular social networks, and are never away from your phone, tablet, or laptop for long. You’ve embraced technology in your professional life (and probably your personal life, too) so why leave it behind once you get to a conference?
Many events have their own apps available for download; check the event site or reach out to a contact to see if they do. If so, download it! Once you do you’ll have a wealth of knowledge in the palm of your hand. The best apps will have plenty of information about every aspect of the event. You can view the conference agenda, see current sessions, and do on-the-fly research on speakers and sponsors if something slips your mind.
You’ll often be able to directly access a conference’s Twitter, Facebook, and more. This will allow you to not only keep track of the latest goings-on in the conference and learn what other attendees are up to, but you’ll also be able to let the world know that you’re in attendance. Events will usually have a unique social media hashtag – which you’ll have found during your pre-event research – that you can use in any postings you make.
When you collect a business card, snap a quick picture of it with your phone. In an instant you’ll have a digital copy free from the dangers of loss, tearing, or spilt beverages.
One of the main benefits of a marketing event is networking and meeting new people. If you do this right, you’ll find yourself with a stack of business cards full of invaluable connections. They might not be as exciting as free pens or t-shirts but they’re certainly more important. Still, the last thing you want to do is carry business cards around all day; you have better things to do than keeping track of them and worrying about losing them when you should be focused on networking.
Luckily your phone comes in handy for that, too. When you collect a business card, snap a quick picture of it with your phone. In an instant you’ll have a digital copy free from the dangers of loss, tearing, or spilt beverages. If your phone backs up images to Google Drive or Dropbox, you’ll be able to access that contact information from any device. Even better, some apps, like Evernote, allow you to take a picture of a business card and will automatically parse out the contact information. No matter how you do it, being able to keep all of the contact information you collect in one place means one less thing to worry about during your conference stay.
Connect With People
Technology makes life easier, but it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t be walking around with your nose in your phone for the whole event: you’re there to meet people. That doesn’t just mean attendees, though. Speakers at events are there because they’re experts in their field or because they bring a unique perspective to a topic. It’s just as valuable to go to an event to see a speaker as it is to see a speech.
When you’re looking at different panels while you’re planning ahead, don’t just focus on what’s being discussed, but also look at who will be there. Just because someone is speaking on a topic that doesn’t interest you or isn’t directly related to your work doesn’t mean that they aren’t a valuable networking node. There may be another issue you want to speak with them about, or you might be able to make a valuable professional connection with them. Think about the long term when you go to an event; a connection that doesn’t seem pertinent at first could have a lot of power down the line.
Eat with others who are attending the conference and, even better, mix it up throughout the course of the event: have lunch with one group of people, dinner with another, and dessert with another still.
Of course, there are only so many speakers at marketing events, so most of the networking you’ll be doing are with other attendees. Luckily you’ll have plenty of opportunities to do so, especially at a multi-day conference. A great way to connect with people is at meals. Eat with others who are attending the conference and, even better, mix it up throughout the course of the event: have lunch with one group of people, dinner with another, and dessert with another still. You have a limited time to make the maximum amount of connections, and meals are a low-key way to have a real conversation with people.
If breakfast, lunch, and dinner aren’t enough for you, look for opportunities outside of the official conference hours. There are often mixers or other social events outside of the actual conference. If you can, stick around after the conference has ended for the day and hang out with your fellow marketers. A laid-back, less formal atmosphere can help you to connect with your peers under less pressure and build a strong foundation for professional relationships.
If there are any interactive sessions at the event you’re attending, be sure to take part in them. Some events are more conducive to this than others – small conferences or events that are more workshop-oriented provide more opportunities for interaction – but even larger conferences often provide Q&A sessions or something of the sort to allow feedback and some back-and-forth amongst attendees and between speakers and attendees.
Finally, if at all possible, extend your stay for as long as you can. There’s plenty to do after a conference, like reflecting on what you’ve learned, deciding on how you’ll incorporate it into your marketing strategy, and just getting back to the “real world” in general. If a conference has any post-event get-togethers, like a brunch or some sort of review session, do your best to attend. There will likely be fewer people there than attended the event, so it’s a good opportunity to make some deeper connections and follow up with people you might have spoken to earlier.
Marketing events can be a large investment of time and money, meaning they are experiences that could be few and far between. That’s why it’s important to make the most out of your time if you attend one. It’s easy to get caught up making arrangements and working out the details of going to a conference, but you shouldn’t have to worry about what you’ll do once you get there. By following these simple tips, you’ll ensure that you have a productive, worthwhile event that you can use to strengthen your marketing skills and improve your business.