By Caron Beesley
With so many technology innovations at their disposal, small business owners rarely need to leave the office to collaborate, share expertise, train or even network with their peers.
But nothing compares to getting out of the office and attending at least one or two business conferences a year. You’ll learn and experience new things, benefit from in-person networking, gain professional visibility and get a fresh perspective on how you run your business.
But conferences are busy places, so planning ahead is critical. Here are eight ways to get the most out of a business conference.
Select the Right Event
Before you register, ask yourself a few questions. Is the conference a good fit with your goals? Are there enough educational sessions of interest to make it worthwhile? Are any of your partners or potential customers attending? The more closely you align the conference with your business goals, the more valuable the experience will be.
Find Ways to Participate
Whether it’s a speaking slot, participating on a panel or roundtable or facilitating a session, conferences offer many opportunities for you to get out there and showcase your expertise. It also allows you to raise your profile with peers and potential customers.
Reach out to Those You Want to Meet
Your fellow conference-goers will have schedules as packed as yours, so it’s best to reach out a few weeks ahead of the event and schedule a time or place to meet. Whether you want to catch up with a vendor or partner, experience a product demo at an exhibitor’s booth or pick the brains of a session presenter, you’ll be more likely to make it happen if you plan ahead.
Have a Schedule
Get the most out of your time by planning your daily activities in advance. Think of the sessions you want to attend, booths that are a “must-visit,” after-hours social events, and leave enough time for getting from A to B. To make things easier, lots of conferences now have a dedicated app for the event that will allow you to customize your experience and stay organized. Download the app ahead of time so you are ready to go when you arrive.
Be a Conference Pro!
Dress, act and network like a pro. Start by wearing the appropriate professional attire for the event. Come equipped with business cards and a finely-tuned elevator pitch. Don’t forget to track your expenses, meals and entertainment so you can also claim your tax deductions like a pro. Apps such as Expensify, Shoeboxed, and BizXpense Tracker are easy to use on the go.
There’s a lot to take away from a business conference, but remembering all of those important learnings and actions can be challenging. This is where good notetaking comes in. Whether it’s capturing key points from a session or noting follow-up actions from a productive meeting, come prepared with a pen and paper, smartphone app or laptop. Tools like Evernote, Apple’s Voice Memos, and Voice Record Pro are all good options. And, make sure you have enough battery backup power to keep you running all day.
Don’t Skip Social Events
Lunchtime and evening social events are a great opportunity to network and connect in a more relaxed venue. Invites often come from existing connections and are a great opportunity to catch up on or solidify those relationships. If you’re looking to form new relationships, opt for smaller venues where starting conversations is easier, or invite people during the day for an informal dinner in the evening.
Try to avoid everyday distractions such as checking your email or worrying about what’s happening back in the office so you can stay focused on the goals you set for the conference. Put your “out of office” on and delegate an employee to cover any must-do tasks while you’re away. You’ll find that you’re able to soak up more knowledge and make the most of your experience.
Post-event actions are just as important as the conference itself. Follow-up with those new contacts, revisit lessons learned and start implementing those best practices into your business.
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