During the last two days I was at a conference, TechCrunch50, and I noticed that most of the attendees weren’t getting their money’s worth. It doesn’t matter if you got in for free or paid because the 2 days of your time spent at the event, is worth money to someone.
So if you want to get your money’s worth out of attending a conference, here are a few things you have to do:
Have business cards
It’s not cool to not have business cards. Over the past few years it has become a trend to not carry business cards, which is a big mistake. If you don’t make it easy for people to contact you, no one will.
If you plan on attending any event, make sure you bring plenty of business cards with you.
If you don’t have any business cards, create some. But don’t just create any type of card because it needs to stand out when thrown into a stack of hundred of other cards and more importantly it has to say something about you.
Come up with an elevator pitch
Although you have business cards, you aren’t quite ready to attend a conference. Before you can start mingling, you have to come up with an elevator pitch.
This elevator pitch should consist of a few things:
- Your name
- What you do
- Why you are here
In addition to those 3 elements, keep your pitch shorter than 30 seconds and make sure it is relevant to the conference.
For example, TechCrunch 50 is a conference about startups in the web 2.0 arena. So during the event, I had the option of using a few elevator pitches.
Hi, my name is Neil Patel. I am an Internet marketer that has helped companies like TechCrunch double their search engine traffic through SEO. I am here to find startups that need help with their Internet marketing efforts.
Hi, my name is Neil Patel. I co-founded a company called KISSmetrics that is a web analytics solution for startups. I am looking to help startups solve their problems that revolve around metrics.
Hi, my name is Neil Patel. I co-founded a company called KISSmetrics that provides web analytics for small and medium businesses. I am here to meet investors.
I know these three examples sound weird, but they work. All you have to do is say them in a conversation so they don’t sound too cheesy.
Knowledge is power
I know the “cool” people don’t attend too many sessions, but you should. Sessions can provide a lot of knowledge and insight, so take the time to attend at least a few sessions.
What I recommend doing is that you look at the conference agenda ahead of time and circle all of the sessions that you want to sit in on. For these sessions you should try and sit in the front so that:
- You can clearly see the presenter and their PowerPoint presentation (if there is one).
- You can hear what the presenter is saying (the audio system may not be working).
- You’ll have a better shot at getting to ask the speaker a question.
Don’t be a networking whore
No one likes a networking whore, so don’t be one. Plus what’s the value in meeting 1000 people over a two-day period? There is no way you can truly get to know every person at a large event.
Don’t waste your time getting to know a large group of people, concentrate on meeting high quality individuals that will hopefully turn into a relationship.
- Speakers – meet every speaker you listen in on. Don’t spend too much time chatting to them because they are getting hounded by hundreds of other people. Be considerate and give them some space.
- Conference organizers – meeting the conference organizer is a wise thing to do. No one really gives them the time of the day, when they should. Organizers can get you into future conferences for free and they know where the cool private after parties are.
- Competition – your competitors don’t have to be your enemy. If you build a relationship with them you can be their friend and potentially even get business from them.
The only group of people that I didn’t mention above is the regular conference attendee. You should get to know other attendees but this should naturally happen as long as you aren’t sitting on the sidelines.
Don’t eat lunch with your friends
Most conferences provide lunch. The lunch food usually isn’t that great, so when lunchtime rolls around you are going to have the urge to eat out. Don’t do it!
Not only should you be eating lunch at the conference, but you should also sit down at a table filled with people that you don’t know. And when you sit down introduce yourself and get involved in the conversation.
You’ll be amazed by who you’ll meet over a 30-minute meal.
Walk the floor
Most conferences have an exhibition floor filled with sponsors and companies who are showcasing their services or products.
Take at least an hour to walk through the exhibition floor and see if there are any companies that you maybe interested in. Even if you don’t want to buy anything, you can get a lot from exhibitors.
Other than swag you can get free products and services that will help your business grow. It just may take a bit of schmoozing to get these things for free.
Take someone out to dinner
If you want someone to open up to you, you have to talk to them on a one on one setting. It’s going to be hard to do this at a conference because you can easily get interrupted. But typically most conferences give you a few hours for dinner before any after parties.
Find someone that you want to get to know on a personal level and ask them to dinner. If they say no, move onto your next target.
During your dinner meeting don’t just talk about business. Find out how they are doing and chat about whatever is interesting to them.
There is nothing wrong with doing business over dinner, but it shouldn’t be the focus. The focus should be on build a relationship.
Once the dinner is over and the bill comes around, make sure you pay for it.
Attend the after parties
The biggest value of a conference is the after parties. This is where you’ll get all the good information and learn the most. When people are loose (have a bit of alcohol in them) they’ll end up talking and sharing almost anything.
Here are a few unwritten rules when attending after hour parties:
- What happens at the party stays at the party. Don’t go and blab everything you hear.
- Don’t push people for information…even if they are drunk. Get to know people and if they naturally want to share information with you, great.
- Don’t leave early, even if you are tired. The longer you stay, the more value you’ll get out of the party.
- Stay away from the dance floor and any loud speakers. It is difficult to have conversations in these areas.
- There is typically another party after the party is over, so try and go to it.
Don’t forget to follow up
At this point the conference is over, right? Technically it is, but for you it isn’t. You have to follow up with EVERY person you met at the event.
If you don’t, you’ll never end up building any real relationships. Meeting someone is great, but if you don’t get to know him or her you’ll never end up gaining value from the conference.
And for some reason if a portion of the people you email or call don’t follow up with you, you can try following up again in a few weeks, but I recommend letting it go. You don’t want to be that pestering person that people hate.