How would you like to grow your business? Get out of your office and go meet some new people. I am a huge proponent of networking, and conferences equal networking on steroids. Relationships are the currency of business, however you can’t have a relationship with a business … only with people. You can have transactions with a business, but people are at the heart of every transaction.
Conferences serve three purposes for you and your business. They help you to see new things, learn new concepts, and most importantly meet new people.
Conferences come in many flavors, sizes, scopes and purposes. Some or all of the following may be appropriate for you and your business:
- Local – Just because it is local to you, does not mean that it’s not valuable, or that people are not traveling long distances to get to it. If you have a localized business, then this is obviously the best choice. Organizations, colleges or chambers of commerce can run these local conferences. You may also find conferences, like Blogging Concentrated, that are held in multiple cities.
- Regional – These come in many flavors as well. They can be associated with regional (or state) associations. For example, I have been a guest speaker for the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Society of Association Executives. In the Chicago area, there are many regional or mid-western conferences held in city and suburban locations. Don’t forget Wizard-World Comic Con, which holds conferences in various regions.
- National – These come in two flavors. There are mega-conferences, like NAB (National Association of Broadcasters – the world’s largest electronics media show) which now includes the New Media Expo. These draw people from all over the world, have over 100,000 attendees and cover over 2,000,000 square feet of exhibit and meeting space (over 20 football fields). There are also multi-day conferences that range from a few hundred to a thousand attendees.
Not all conferences include miles of pipe and drape, filled with carnival barkers and video projection screens. Some are simply educational conferences. In the Internet marketing, on-line marketing and coaching markets (my business), there are some great conferences, like NAMS (Novice to Advanced Marketing Systems), Marketing Mayhem and The Impact Event. You can search your industry for associations, conferences or meet-ups that support what you do. In doing so, you may be amazed at how many opportunities you have to connect with like-minded professionals who can help you better yourself and grow your business.
Making The Most Of Your Conference
I have been to the biggies, and have also run small local conferences. Each requires time and resources. What you get from them is what you give. You would be amazed at how many people show up, yet don’t really get anything out of them. Sure they show up, attend the classes, seminar or the show, but then they go home and just jump back into the stream of consistency and the excitement and education transform into an existence of complacency.
In order to take you and your business to the next level, you need to have a plan, document what you have learned or experienced, and then act on it with follow through and follow-up:
- Have A Plan – Know what you want to achieve from the conference. Are there some things you need to learn? Are there actionable takeaways that you expect? Who do you need to or want to meet? If you have written goals and objectives, you will come away with much more than the person who just shows up and wings it. Do your research by going to the show’s website and researching the presenters, vendors and even the organizers. Do they have books with reviews? Do they have LinkedIn profiles? Can you connect with them on social media? Even if you don’t do that before the show, you may benefit by doing the research during or after the conference.
- Keep Good Notes – I take lots of notes. I use Evernote and I take photos at the least. Each class, seminar or booth has a story, but you need to write it. At the end of each day, I try to review what I have learned. I check websites, make connections and create to-dos for when I get back to the pile of work, emails and phone calls I may have missed during my time at the conference.
- Follow Through On Follow Up – When I get back from a networking meeting, I get out my new pile of business cards (new contacts), and send an email to each one to say “Nice to meet you” and “What can I do to help?” You may have a different system or plan, but no matter what you do, follow-up. You can reach out via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Keep the lines of communication open. Most people just head back into the stream where new contacts just get swept away with the flow of work and time.
You’ve invested your time and maybe thousands of dollars to travel, stay in a hotel and buy new products or services. Once you have come back to reality, it fades fast. You have to act fast to preserve the knowledge, information and relationships you have acquired at the conference. I know more than a few people who treat going to a conference like a mini vacation (I was one of them until recently).
Statistics have shown that 80% of attendees never act on or really benefit from what they have learned or acquired at conferences, and only the top 5-10% attendees actually profit from their activities (vendors are a totally different story and blog post). My guess is that the middle 10-15% are the ones who are growing relationships made during the conference, but may not be ready to implement everything they have learned.
I would love to hear your stories, experiences and expectations from conferences that you have attended. What are some of your favorite local, regional and national conferences, and why? I am looking forward to your comments and feedback.
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