You prepared ahead of time for that big conference. Now you find yourself at the event. What can you do to get more out of it?
|@AmberCadabra and @ThinkMaya
at BlogWorld Expo 2009
Be your friendliest self. Act like you’re in a small town. Say hello to everyone. Talk to your neighbors, whether in line or at a table or where ever you find yourself. Pretend you are hosting a big party, and all of these people have chosen to attend with you. When you’re sitting in the partially empty room before a session, take the initiative to break the ice. It’s your party, after all!
Know how you plan to introduce yourself, what you want people at this event to know about you. Give people hooks, so they know how you might be useful to them. Don’t worry as much about handing out your card as you do about getting their card. That way you can be sure you follow up, not rely on them to remember. I got those ideas from Chris Brogan.
At really large events, you can’t count on seeing people more than once. If you see a friend, make time right then to stop and talk. I learned that one from Jeff Pulver.
Take photos of people, of signs, of everything. Want a trick to remember people’s names? Take their picture, then take a picture of their name tag. I’ve been doing it for years, and it really helps later.
Shoot video, even if you only have a digital camera. It makes you talk to people, and you can share their thoughts. Not sure what to shoot? Have one question you ask everyone. Keith Burtis did this at SXSW, asking several people to define social media.
Share with non-attendees by live blogging (posting raw notes as quickly as possible to your blog during events) or live tweeting (tweeting snippets of presentations using the event hashtag). Both are good ways to position yourself as a leader in the larger online community around the event. I always gain new Twitter followers when I live-tweet. Not everyone likes to do this or agrees that it is good form. Use your own judgment, and consider the audience.
Pick only one or two of these, as you can’t do it all. Adapt to your own style. I’m terrible about writing while at events, but I do usually make time to upload some photos each day.
Go to basic sessions to eavesdrop.
Pay attention to the questions that people ask – especially in the sessions.
These questions are insights into what your market needs. This is why I often attend sessions that cover subjects I’m very familiar with. I want to know what other people don’t know.
That information helps me choose what to write about and what services to offer. It’s market research.
*I love Carl Natale’s Expensiccino blog about premium pricing – one of those topics we never get enough of.
Go to “out there” and “off topic” sessions to broaden your thinking.
Rex Hammock taught me this for SXSW. Following his advice, I learned about augmented reality, predictive questions, and lots of other weird and wonderful things. I still look for crazy technical subjects that I would never normally consider.
For non-technology conferences, take in sessions designed for people outside your specialty. Sit in on a session for the finance people or the sales group. Look for topics that can get you outside your usual thinking pattern.
Next time? You guessed it; what to do after the event.
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Paul Merrill says
Very helpful, Becky! I’m planning to do (some of) these things at SXSW.
The only thing I’d add is “pace your self” – take breaks from the crowd when you need to.
Fred Leo says
Are you going to SXSW this year? If so, I would love to meet you there.
Phil Simon says
Simple tips but good reminders. I’m glad that I read this before the conference next week.
Becky McCray says
Paul, it’s hard to do, but pacing yourself is critical at huge events like SXSW.
Fred, of course I’m going! Heck, I’m speaking!
Phil, definitely simple stuff. But as you say, sometimes we need reminded.
Carl Natale says
Hey thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you find what I do useful.
I like your photo-taking idea. I have trouble remembering names. After an event, I go through the business cards I collect and go over the details of who they are. It’s useful for me to tell my wife about who I met to reinforce the memory.
But the photos can be made into something much more interesting.
And I’m not a fan of live tweeting. I can’t pay attention properly and tweet. But I appreciate the tweets everyone else posts. They’re good insights into what people found to be valuable.
Thanks for the ideas. And I hope you have fun at SXSW. Sorry I’m going to miss your presentation.
Becky McCray says
Carl, thanks again for the good idea. Hope to meet you at an in-person event soon.
Becky – What will you be speaking about?
Becky McCray says
Sarah, I’m speaking on “What We Can Learn from Small Town Entrepreneurs” along with Barry Moltz. You’ll find all the info here: http://is.gd/xsdfGh
Daria Steigman says
I love your tip about paying attention to the questions people ask. This is clearly something I need to do more. I tend to tune out the “duh” ones. But, you’re right, in aggregate they are as reflective of what the market needs as the thought-provoking ones.
Becky McCray says
Daria, yes, Carl made a great point with that one. Be sure to listen to the answers, too, because you may pick up a new way to explain something or draw a new idea from it.