I’m starting a time of year when I will be travelling to key conferences that I’m really looking forward to attending. I have learned over the years that preparation, organization and flexibility greatly enhance my conference time and experience.
Conferences can be very productive and fun or totally overwhelming and a drain depending on those factors. The investment of time, travel and energy required to go to conferences, makes it more important to be prepared before you go so that you’re not scrambling at the last minute or worse yet – while you are there.
The 21st century conference attendee has a lot more technology, social media and content options that can be used to share and highlight their experience and their takeaways. The rule of thumb is
- Be flexible
- Follow up
Below are 10 things to prepare before attending a conference that can help you get the most out of your commitment and experience.
What to do Before Attending a Conference
Mindset, Attitude, Energy
It’s important to tie up loose ends, finish tasks, projects and deadlines so that you can go away clear minded and caught up. Whatever can wait until you return, let it wait.
Focus on looking forward to the event, meeting people and being positive and accessible. Read some positive and motivational content and download an app or take some with you.
Your frame of mind and heart can set you up to have an awesome time and be someone awesome to meet. Smile, be pleasant, be polite and show your enjoyment.
Documents, Schedule, Sessions
Gather all your travel documents, airline confirmation numbers and flight itinerary and have it all accessible. Get a good picture of your overall travel needs and experience. There are several travel apps that help  you organize this on your smart phone including Tripit , TripCase  and GateGuru .
In addition, there are apps that offer city guides , things to do and see, restaurants, special events, and connectivity apps to connect you with people and sessions at the conference. These are all very helpful and fairly simple.
Meeting Specific People
The whole point of going to certain conferences is the chance to meet colleagues, speakers or presenters you follow, engage with and that influence you. Don’t forget why they should want to meet you, too.
Be confident in your expertise, know their background, current activity, books, so that you can create good conversations. Google people you want to meet, visit their blogs, websites, social media and learn as much as you can about them.
Cards, Handouts, Branding Statement
Have a current simple, but branded, card with your contact info and logo and make use of both sides. When we make impressions with people, a business card will have more meaning after. It’s a marketing tool.
Make sure you prepare your “professional branding statement” when someone asks, “What do you do?” One sentence that opens the door and offers them something they can remember about you.
Opening Questions, Conversation Starters, Chit Chat
Prepare some ice breaker questions, or statements that can establish commonality or a personal connection. Is this your first time at this conference? What was your favorite takeaway last year? What’s your biggest accomplishment so far this year?
Build in some random, free, unexpected meeting people time. Truthfully, I have met some really cool people in bathrooms, airports, lines and lobby’s.
Social Media Strategy
Whatever the focus of the conference is should play into your social media strategy. Use LinkedIn to connect  to people you meet. Use Twitter and Google+ to tell people who you have met and share a link to their work or website. Use Facebook to post great pictures and videos of you in action and the experience you are having.
Content Marketing Plan
What are the content marketing platforms and tools that you are known for and have the most activity on and results with?
Use your website to highlight people, sessions and ideas that resonated with you. Take lots of pictures of some of those “specific people” that you got to meet and some short form videos and put them up on Google+, YouTube and Facebook.
Use your social media strategically around the platforms used by the attendees and presenters.
Technology, Cords, Batteries
Do a full check list for all your technology, chargers, cords and batteries and make sure you have everything with you that you need to capture the moment and share it.
Pay attention to battery life on different devices that you use and be sure to recharge them when you see them getting low so you don’t miss capturing anything when the moment arrives. Most conferences have charging and power stations now.
Follow Up Plan
Sort out your cards and the connections you have made. I usually plan about 4 days after a conference to follow up with specific people I have met and include some specific things we talked about via email and phone.
Connect with them immediately on LinkedIn with a note about meeting them and any other primary social media they use. If people are in proximity, take the initiative to invite them to meet in person.
The opportunity to meet people in person at major industry conferences is golden. Be prepared, have fun and make the very most of it to make an impression, enhance relationships and create new ones.