Beginner’s Guide to Attending Conferences

conference

I just spent two days at the TechCrunch50 conference, and what I noticed was that most of the attendees weren’t getting their money’s worth. It doesn’t matter if you pay for admission or if you get in free because your time spent at an event is worth money.

If you want to get your money’s worth from attending a conference, here are a few suggestions:

Have business cards

It’s not cool to not have business cards. Recently, it has become a trend to not carry business cards, and this is a big mistake. If you don’t make it easy for people to contact you, no one will.

If you plan on attending an event, make sure you bring plenty of cards.

If you don’t have business cards, create some. More importantly, your card needs to stand out, and it has to say something about you.

Come up with an elevator pitch

Having business cards alone doesn’t mean you’re ready to attend a conference. Before you start mingling, you have to come up with an elevator pitch.

This elevator pitch should consist of a few things:

  1. Your name
  2. What you do
  3. Why you are here

In addition to those three elements, keep your pitch shorter than 30 seconds, and make sure it is relevant to the conference.

For example, TechCrunch50 is a conference about startups in the web 2.0 arena. During the event, I had the option of using a few different elevator pitches.

Here are some examples:

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 examples may sound weird, but they work. All you have to do is say them in a conversation so they don’t sound cheesy.

Knowledge is power

I know the “cool” people don’t attend very many sessions, but you should. Sessions can provide a lot of knowledge and insight, so take the time to attend a few.

I recommend that you look at the conference agenda ahead of time and circle the sessions you want to attend. For these sessions, you should try to sit in the front so that:

  1. You can clearly see the presenter and their PowerPoint presentation (if there is one).
  2. You can hear what the presenter is saying (the audio system may not be working).
  3. You’ll have a better chance at asking 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 1,000 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 with whom you can build valuable relationships.

  • Speakers – meet every speaker you listen to. Don’t spend much time chatting to them because they are getting hounded by hundreds of others. Be considerate, and give them space.
  • Conference organizers – meeting the conference organizer is a wise thing to do. No one really gives them the time of day, but 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 enemies. If you build a relationship with them, they can potentially refer customers to you.

The only group of people I haven’t mentioned thus far is regular conference attendees. You should get to know these people, but it usually happens naturally 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 great, and when lunchtime comes, you will have the urge to eat out. Don’t!

Not only should you eat lunch at the conference, but you should also sit at a table filled with people you don’t know. When you do sit down, introduce yourself, and get involved in the conversation.

You’ll be amazed by whom you’ll meet over a 30-minute meal.

Walk the floor

Most conferences have an exhibition floor filled with sponsors and companies showcasing their services or products.

Take at least an hour to walk through the exhibition floor, and see if there are any companies you’re interested in. Even if you don’t buy anything, you can still 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 one on one. It’s hard to do this at a conference because you can easily get interrupted. Typically, most conferences give you a few hours for dinner before any after-parties.

Find someone you want to get to know on a personal level, and ask them to dinner. If they say no, move on to the next person.

During your dinner meeting, don’t just talk about business. Find out how they’re doing, and chat about whatever interests them.

There is nothing wrong with doing business over dinner, but it shouldn’t be the focus. The focus should be on building the relationship.

Once the dinner is over and the bill comes, 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 the best  information. 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 to follow 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 the party early even if you are tired. You’ll benefit more from staying than leaving.
  • 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 to 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 the people you meet, you won’t gain value from the conference.

If a portion of the people you email or call don’t respond to you, you can try following up again in a few weeks, but I recommend letting it go. You don’t want to come across as being bothersome.