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4 Ways to make the most of a business conference
by Startacus Admin
4 Ways to make the most of a business conference
Much has changed in the world of business conferences.
A dramatic rise in entrepreneurship in the past decade or so, fuelled in part by an uncertain employment market, has birthed a new generation of innovative entrepreneurs and ‘wannapreneurs’ hungry for some equally energetic and inspiring business related events.
Over the past few weeks we have been taking a look at the fine efforts of Derry City and Strabane District Council, as they deliver their innovative ‘Growing the Digital Economy’ programme, which is helping local businesses to make the most of the potential digital opportunities available to them.
This programme will be coming to a close at the end of June with a 2-day conference- the aptly named Digital Derry Conference - connecting the region’s emerging digital talent with global markets. Amongst the conference speakers will be seasoned experts from Silicon Valley, New York, London and Europe - each sharing tips, strategies and insights to help attendees build their business in new markets.
Many folks find themselves somewhat apprehensive about attending such conferences...and in all honesty who could blame them? After all, traditionally, business conferences have had the reputation of being intimidating, overwhelming, and dull. Whilst conferences of this ilk do still exist, there is a variety of choice available nowadays which completely surpasses that which was available even a few short years ago.
The question still remains though ‘How can you make the most of a business conference’ such as the Digital Derry conference or the recent MoneyConf and EnterConf events? Here we take a look at some tips and hints that should help and thereby enable you to get the most value from any business conference you attend!
Be very selective
It’s easy to assume that attending any conference, however tenuously related to your own area of business, will be worth your while; in truth this is often not the case. It would be a tad naive to imagine that a business conference could be ‘all things to all people’ and therefore you should be prudent in deciding whether or not to attend. Ask yourself some key questions to decide whether the value of attending outweighs the time, effort, and money it will require. Questions like;
Do the scheduled topics promise to be of value?
Will there be other attendees / speakers there that are of interest and value to me?
Can I financially afford to attend this conference (including travel and other expenses) and will the potential gains justify the expenditure?
Can I spare the time to attend including preparation time?
Many modern conferences are spread across a number of days so it is also vital to consider how much of the event you should attend. If there is only one particular speaker that you are interested in hearing, could you perhaps attend this only? It can also be a good idea to check whether there will be live video streaming of conference content, which might eliminate your need to physically be there.
If you are faced with financial constraints, it’s worth bearing in mind that many organisations (like Startacus!) regularly have free conference and event ticket giveaways! Check out social media for your particular event to find out more.
If you show up at a conference having done zero preparation, you can fully expect that the returns from attending will be correspondingly poor.
This doesn't mean that you should be inflexible in your approach to the experience - in fact you should always be ready to seize a potentially beneficial opportunity. However having a clear estimation of how taking part in a conference will be of use to you, is the basis on which you should begin the experience.
Some of the main things you might hope to achieve from the experience include;
Making useful contacts through networking opportunities
Showing yourself as being immersed within your industry, and part of the wider ‘conversation’
Keeping on the cutting edge of your industry
Simply being around like-minded people
Getting out of the office and enjoy yourself, whilst still working
Sussing out potential collaborative opportunities
Advancing your knowledge and expertise
Identifying new industry strategies which could be useful to you
Whilst the main motivations for attending will be much the same for the majority of people, there may also be some more highly specific and individual ways that you hope to benefit; these should be given equal prominence in your approach.
To ensure you have the best chance to achieving some of your goals, there are a number of other things that you can do in preparation;
Become well versed in the schedule of events and talks that will be taking place
Decide which events you would like to attend
Create a schedule for yourself which will ensure that you get to attend as many events as possible
Familiarise yourself with the layout of the venue. This can become particularly useful in very large conferences, which can be spread across a considerable area
Familiarise yourself with the speakers you are hoping to hear
Try and assess what the formality and tone of the conference will be like; this will help you decide what to wear, and what to expect from others
If possible, find a way to identify who of interest will be attending, and use this as an opportunity to introduce yourself and arrange a meet-up
Lastly, be sure to plan the practicalities of the trip so that it runs as smoothly and enjoyably as possible. This is something which people often neglect to do, because they are so focussed on preparing for the conference itself. Be familiar with the local transport network, and know precisely where you are going, and how long it will take to get there. Always leave yourself extra time as a contingency, should you be held up for any reason.
Be active, not passive
Generally within any business conference you will be presented with many opportunities to engage with all manner of people working in your industry and to dare we say it, ‘network’.
The word is quite antagonistic to some people, especially those who don’t consider themselves to be natural extroverts. We prefer to think of it as ‘being active within the situation’ and making the most of the opportunity to form new and possibly useful connections.
As we mentioned above, this process begins prior to the event. A business conference will give you a unique opportunity to reach out to key individuals within your industry that you otherwise wouldn't have. Most business conferences will have some information available on key attendees, and even if they don’t, a little research should hopefully provide you with the information you need. Once you have identified someone with whom you would like to make a connection, don’t be shy about contacting them and flagging your interest, and the possible mutual benefits of the meeting. However do be careful not to be too self promotional or ‘sales-y’, that won’t go down well at all.
A good mindset to enter the conference with is one that allows you to converse with anyone that you come into contact with, regardless of your vested interest in them. Remember, this is not your own personal pitching event. Whilst you should of course discuss your own business, you shouldn’t have the sole aim of furthering your own particular agenda. Consider what value you can bring to someone else, and this positive attitude will stand you in good stead.
You should carry this attitude forward even after the event has finished, by ensuring that you follow up with the people that you have met. This is one of the biggest challenges that come along with events such as these, but is also the point at which you might really begin to see the value of attending. We suggest that as well as simply taking someone's business card you also make some notes (either on a pad or on your phone) which will help to refresh your memory of the conversation later. Most people fail to do this, assuming that they will be able to remember. As a result they then find themselves struggling to recall the details of a conversation, which may deter them from making further contact.
“But surely it might be considered rude to have your head stuck in your smartphone during the conference?” you may assume.
Not at all, that’s 20th century thinking! In fact social media (and especially Twitter) have the potential to really enhance your engagement with and enjoyment of an event. Indeed, most conferences have a substantial social media presence and find innovative ways of encouraging attendees to get involved with the online conversation. We suggest using Twitter specifically, because its nature is particularly well suited to this kind of immediate and ‘of the moment’ engagement.
A few great ways that you can use Twitter to your advantage during a business conference include;
Taking pictures and tweeting them with your commentary
Discussing key points being raised by speakers with your audience
Engaging with others at the conference by following the Twitter hashtag and tweeting opinions
Tweeting content and material referenced by speakers, for the benefit of your followers and others at the conference
Giving feedback to speakers about their performances
Creating informal connections between other people
Following people you meet as a way of keeping track, but also showing yourself to be ‘on the ball’
Not only will all of this Twitter interaction make you as visible within the conference as possible, it will also come in very useful subsequently, when it provides a run-down of key moments and events.
Hopefully these tips will come in handy for your next business conference.