However, over the last few years conference registration prices have climbed to previously unheard of heights. (Heck, SXSW Interactive is up to $1,300 this year!) Once you add travel expenses, meals, and accommodations to a pricey registration pass, the cost can become difficult for a business to afford - especially a small business. The result is that most companies have cut back on the number of employees they’re willing to send to conferences and other education opportunities.
If you still want to be allowed to attend your favorite conferences, you’ll have to prove to your employer that they’ll get a solid return on their investment. Knowing how you intend on getting the most out of a conference will show your boss that you have a plan and will remain focused on doing what you’re being sent to do.
So how do you get the maximum value out of your next conference? Follow these 4 fail-proof steps:
Before attending a conference, do lots of research! Find out who is speaking and what they’ll be speaking about, plan out which sessions you’ll attend or tract you’ll follow, and look for optional networking or meetup sessions. But your research doesn’t end there with just knowing the conference in and out.
Research where you’re going too! Find out if there are any other business opportunities that you can seize while you’re in the area. Are there customers, prospects, or vendors you can meet with while you’re there? Being willing to add these types of visits into your trip may make your boss much more likely to sign off on it.
This may sound like a silly point, but attending everything available to you at a conference is the best way to get your money’s worth. We’ve all been there – you’re tired from traveling and you’d rather sleep in than listen to the early morning opening speaker or you just want to head back to the hotel for a nap rather than attend the last session of the day. Remember why you’re there though and make sure that you attend everything.
Some conferences give the option of attending social events in the evening rather than educational sessions. It will be up to you to determine which will be a more beneficial use of your time from a business perspective. Always try to make good decisions about what will bring the most value back to your business or organization.
Bring a Colleague or Make a Friend
Okay, so you can’t actually attend every single thing because every conference has different sessions running concurrently. This is why it’s a huge help to bring a colleague along so that you can divide and conquer. However, if your company decides to send you by yourself, making a friend early on in the conference can allow you to find out what you missed in the sessions you couldn’t attend.
Many presenters make their presentations available after the session is over to all conference attendees, so this is another way for you to get a glimpse into anything you missed.
Network with peers and Exhibitors
Networking is one of the main reasons why you’re attending a conference (or at least it should be). Take the opportunity to network with your peers before and after the sessions, during the built in social breaks, and over meals throughout the day. Stock up on business cards before you get there and hand them out to anyone that you end up chatting with over the course of the conference. You’re likely to meet a lot of people so be sure to jot down notes about who you met so that you’re not just left with a confusing pile of business cards that you received after the event is over.
Don’t forget to network with the exhibitors on the floor too. These people can prove to be valuable contacts as you look for technology to help you do your job more efficiently, complimentary companies to partner with, and ideas for ideas for growth. They’ll also give you branded swag that you can bring back to your coworkers so that they’re less jealous when they hear how much fun you had and how much you learned!
Kate Pierce is the owner of LionShark Digital Marketing LLC, a West Michigan internet marketing company. Her areas of expertise include Paid Search, Search Engine Optimization, Social Media, Web Consulting for small businesses, Copywriting and Local Online Marketing. She lives in the Grand Rapids area with her husband and enjoys cooking, watching sports and spending time outdoors. Like a true digital marketing expert (i.e. geek), she loves talking about marketing theory and SEM trends… so don’t say you weren’t warned!