So you’ve marked your calendar to attend a conference in a new city — simple as that. You’ll attend a few classes, make some new connections, and call it a success. Not quite. These conferences can be huge investments of both time and money, and if that’s your plan, you’ll be missing out on valuable relationship-building and self-branding opportunities.
Everything, from the time you arrive at your hotel to the amount of time you spend on social media, makes a difference at these conferences, and you want to make the most out of your finite time there.
In order to do so, here are a few ways to ensure your business excursion is a success.
5 Tips for Planning for the Conference
Attending a conference shouldn’t be a last-minute decision. Your ability to succeed at the event will directly correlate with the quality of your preparation. Here are five things to remember:
1. Plan your arrival and departure times accordingly.
The last impression you want people to have of you is that you are a person who is late, disorganized, and disoriented. Arrive on the early end, get some rest, and be ready to meet with other early-arrival attendees.
2. Look for a buddy or mentorship program.
Many conferences will offer introductions for newcomers. If this is your first time attending a particular conference, reach out to the organizers and see if they can match you up with someone who can help you make new connections at the event.
3. Remember, this is a business trip, not a personal trip.
While you may be used to staying in a five-star hotel or booking a bargain accommodation, be sure to stick with the conference-chosen location. There is nothing worse for networking than commuting to a hotel with no other attendees around. And the same goes for transportation — I would much rather interact with other attendees on a free shuttle than ride solo in a fancy limo.
However, that doesn’t mean you have to reserve a room through the conference. Sometimes the conference has negotiated a low rate with the hotel, but I always try to book cheaper. Google the hotel name with the term “promo codes,” or find packages offered through airlines to find a better rate.
4. Make all your reservations as early as possible.
Conferences tend to bring a lot of people with similar interests to the same city, so book your dinner, travel, entertainment, and other activities as early as possible.
5. Pack the right essentials.
Packing can be a true challenge, but with the right essentials, you can save valuable time. Bring comfortable yet professional attire, and be sure to pack shoes that won’t ruin your trip. Wrinkle releaser has been a lifesaver for me during out-of-town trips.
An On- and Offline Mix
While those preparations are helpful, you can’t forget about the digital side of the equation. Digital integration is becoming the norm for most conferences, and you should utilize a few social platforms and apps to keep you updated and connected.
- Official Conference App: Nowadays, a conference’s app offers useful features other than just the layout and schedule. Many even have social features that can be used prior to the event to start developing relationships early. Also, when looking for places to eat and be entertained, the conference’s website usually includes well-researched information, as well as discounts and exclusive services for attendees.
- Twitter: Follow the conference’s official Twitter handle, the specific hashtag, the staff, and anyone you’re interested in meeting from the moment you start planning your trip. Stay engaged in conference-specific conversations before, during, and after. Schedule meet-ups and showcase the insights you’re gaining while at the conference.
- LinkedIn: You’ll be meeting a lot of people at these conferences, but the relationships shouldn’t stop there. Before leaving, make sure your profile not only has a friendly picture, but also clearly reflects what you have done in the past. While at the conference, you should find time to connect with the people you have met, and the app makes this quick and easy.
- Google Calendar: Try to set as many firm appointments as possible, and then send meeting invites to attendees to show you’ve made the meeting a priority and commitment. These events can be hectic, and that little ding can be a lifesaver. Also, I like to set wake-up alarms before going to late-night cocktail meet-ups.
- Angry Birds: Sometimes, you just need a break from it all, and there is something to be said for destroying the entire pig race with slingshot-propelled canaries while listening to a boring presentation.
With flight, hotel, and ticket prices, a conference can be a large financial investment. You shouldn’t push the planning to the last minute and expect that the return on your investment will be worth it. Spend time planning and preparing — you’ll get to enjoy invaluable relationships, fresh information, and a new city filled with interesting people.
Brendon Schenecker is the CEO of Travel Vegas, a company dedicated to finding the best deals and promo codes in Las Vegas. The company’s app, TravelVegas, received the Best Mobile Experience Award at the Las Vegas Digital Media Awards in 2012. Brendon is also the owner of S.B. Marketing Inc., a business-to-business Internet consulting company.
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