Not all conferences and exhibitions are the same

We all want to get the most out of a conference: to squeeze as much value from a business event as possible. We would probably all agree that we have never been as busy as we are right at this precise moment. So if we do find time to attend a conference or an exhibition we should all be doing as much as we can to maximise our time at a conference. We should be doing more to get as much as we can to get the value we need!

Exactly how do I maximise my time at a conference?

As an attendee this should be the most important question we ask but as attendees how do we actually do this? Aren’t all conferences and exhibitions rubbish? The US Congress decision to cap conference spending by Government Departments heaps more fuel on the ‘events are rubbish’ fire. Events don’t add the value they are expected too is what sits behind The US Congress broad brushstroke, ill-advised and rash approach. However there is some merit in their pragmatic approach. I think our industry is partly at fault for not arguing our case strongly enough that good events add a huge amount of value if you know how to get the most out of a conference or an exhibition? However it is not always the event or even the organiser that’s to blame: what role the attendee? 

When attending a typical conference it is crucial that the time you take away from the office is as valuable as possible

And in these austere times money should not be wasted on events that don’t deliver. Value should be added for all. So with a couple of hundred or so of these ‘typical conferences’ behind me (as an attendee as well as an organiser) I thought I would list my top ten things that the attendee can do to ensure they max their time at a show. And incidentally it would be much better to exhaust this list before one throws the learning out with the refreshments and goes bad mouthing an entire Industry (yes, that’s YOU US Congress):

1. Get properly involved. “Participants formally known as the delegates” sums up the involvement that attendees should expect to have at an event. It doesn’t just cover the enthusiasm and engagement DURING the event but also before and after. Book on to an event with the desire and the approach to get involved as much as possible.

Building networking into sessions

2. ‘Meet’ other attendees before you arrive at the venue. Social Media is a great social enabler. Attendees should follow other attendees on Twitter, connect with them on LinkedIn and start communication before the show.

3. Meet in person. Arrange to meet up with the people you think you will learn from. That could be a speaker or another attendee. You will be amazed how many people are very happy to share a coffee with another proactive attendee: even a high salaried CEO!

4. Help curate the audience. If there is a colleague or a contact that you would like to see at the event why not casually mention the event or ask be bold and ask them to attend? If it’s someone pretty influential perhaps you could email the organiser and ask if they wouldn’t mind offering this person a free place. Some organisers will be only too happy to have some leads on filling their ‘guest attendee’ slots.

5. Respond to the savvy and proactive exhibitors and sponsors. If your conference has an exhibition it’s likely that there will be a few (one would hope there would be more) suppliers that may be able to help you. See this as an opportunity to do all your shopping in once place. But don’t wait until you attend to start the ball rolling. Speak to the suppliers before and ask them to do a bit of research into your company and your needs. Get them to discuss the detail and maybe even give you a proposal when you attend the event.

6. Get what you want covered. It’s easier than it has ever been to try and influence the content that is discussed on the day. If the topic you want to discuss isn’t on the programme why don’t you contact the organiser and suggest it? You’ll find that a good percentage of the programme is fluid even weeks before the show. Maybe a little Twitter campaign for your topic would give your topic a bit of amplification.

7. Contact the speaker. How often have you attended a conference because you have seen a representative from a company you admire or perhaps even a speaker you’ve enjoyed before? It’s very common but how often do you contact them? Perhaps ask if they would cover something in particular for you? Great speakers cover what attendees want to hear not what they want to say, so make your feelings clear.

8. Fill in your details. Many speakers are now asking delegates directly what their key issues are. If a speaker is proactive and wants to tailor their session then do answer their requests and questions.

Forms how I hate you

Forms how I hate you

9. Take part in the structured networking. Like cream the good networkers always rise to the top. If you aren’t blessed with the blarney and you want to make the most of the networking then make sure you take part in the structured networking. If there is gamification then play along; if meetings are suggested then attend them and if you have an allocated seat then take it.

10. If the organiser at an event you have booked on to isn’t doing their upmost to help you do most of the nine things above don’t attend their event. Find the ones that do offer the value you are demanding.

I believe that if we all took more of an active role, even if that means attending fewer events each year, the stock of our events and our industry would rise.