Conferences are a unique opportunity to meet like-minded people, grow your business network, and learn from industry experts.
But it’s easy to squander the opportunity and leave without real progression if you don’t plan ahead.
If you’ve never been to a conference or want to up your game, this guide will show you how to make the most of professional conferences, with some tips from industry experts.
How to Find the Best Conferences
There are some great resources online to help you find the best conferences in your industry. As well as the thousands hosted in the US, there are also some hubs around the world that are known for conferences.
“For example, Palma de Mallorca is a popular destination for conferences and events in a variety of industries. The city hosts several notable conferences each year, including the Palma International Boat Show, the Palma International Sports Boat Show, and the Mediterranean Equestrian Tour. Additionally, Palma de Mallorca is home to several conference venues, such as the Palau de Congressos de Palma and the Trui Teatre, which host a variety of events throughout the year.” says Tom of Mallorca Info.
Online Conference Database
There are tons of sites out there dedicated to tracking and locating conferences in a range of industries. This is a convenient way to narrow down your search and figure out where and when conferences are held.
A few of the top conference search engines are:
The downside of using databases is the sheer volume of information at your fingertips. You need to have a specific topic in mind to help narrow down your search. Otherwise, you’ll get inundated with alerts.
Although Eventbrite isn’t dedicated to conferences, it has a fantastic database of some of the largest conferences happening around the world.
Groups within different institutions often post on Eventbrite to attract a wider audience, so you’ll often find events that seem exclusive yet are open to the public.
Most Eventbrite conferences are one-day events, also known as symposiums. If you’re looking for multi-day events, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
If you have built up a solid professional network on Twitter, you’ll begin seeing recommendations for conferences on the platform. Follow some leaders in your chosen field, and they’ll promote any conferences they are attending or hosting.
Although you can scour Twitter for recommendations, there is a lot of information to go through, so this might take some time.
You should also be wary of people promoting conferences just for the sake of a plug – they might not even be attending.
How to Prepare for a Conference
Once you’ve found a conference you want to attend, it’s time to prepare. There are endless opportunities for professional progression at conferences as long as you know how to take advantage of them.
Define Your Conference Goals
Most people attend conferences with a specific goal in mind, such as:
- Learn new skills with the help of experts
- Learn from industry experts
- Network with peers
- Network with potential customers
- Host an exhibit
- Bag a speaking opportunity
Before you go any further, define your goals, so you know how to spend your time at the conference.
Get To Know The Event and Attendees
Figure out who is going to the conference and identify any influencers or industry professionals you’d like to meet. Most conferences have apps and social media channels set up to help connect attendees, so this should be pretty easy.
“One effective networking strategy for attending a conference is to research the speakers and attendees beforehand and create a targeted list of individuals or companies to connect with. You can use social media or the conference app to reach out and arrange a meeting or grab a coffee during breaks. Additionally, make sure to attend networking events, such as cocktail hours or dinners, and bring business cards to exchange with potential connections.” says Justin of The Enemy of Average.
It’s easy to get sidetracked at conferences, so having a list of people you want to connect with in advance will keep you on track to achieving your goals.
Find Out About Networking Events
Most conferences include a breakfast, lunch, and/or happy hour networking session. You should attend all of the networking events to build your list of connections.
Don’t forget your business cards, and make an effort to talk to as many people as possible. If you’ve done your research on the event, you should already recognize a lot of faces, so breaking the ice should be a little easier.
Order New Business Cards
You’ll need a good supply of business cards to give to everyone you meet. Make sure they include your full name, business, title, social media channels, and email address.
If your business cards are a little dated, now is the time to redesign them to make sure they’re modern and eye-catching. You don’t want your new connections ditching them as soon as the event ends.
Dress to Impress
The dress code at conferences is usually business formal, but the type of event you attend will dictate the dress code. For example, a fashion event is going to look a lot different from an engineering one.
If you’re unsure, stick with business casual – a shirt and blazer or mid-length dress are great choices.
Update Your Online Profiles
If you network and hand out business cards, you’ll see a spike in social media views after the event. Be prepared for this by updating your LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social profiles.
Makes sure you have a professional profile picture that’s consistent across your accounts, as well as up-to-date information on your roles, services, awards, etc.
If potential clients look you up and find stale social media profiles, they’re not going to do business with you.
Record Sessions or Take Detailed Notes
If you’re listening to a few speakers, it’s best to record them if you can. This saves you from having to take notes during the session, which means you can listen more intently and take more in.
You can set up a recording on your phone and then sit down and take notes at home once the event is over and you’ve had time to decompress.
Making the Most of the Conference
Conferences can be tiring, especially if you’re an introvert. But this is a great time to promote yourself and put yourself out there.
If this is your first conference, you should definitely attend the first-timers briefing. This will help you figure out how to schedule your day and give you a chance to connect with other newbies who are just as uncertain as you are.
Choose the Right Sessions
You won’t be able to go to all the sessions at a conference, so it’s up to you to figure out which ones will be the most beneficial for you and your goals.
“Filmmaking conferences often offer workshops and panels on a wide variety of topics, from screenwriting to distribution. Attend as many of these sessions as possible to learn from experts in your field. If you have a film or a pitch, bring it with you to the conference. You never know who you might meet who could be interested in your project.” says Neil of Neil Chase Film.
Don’t forget to schedule downtime throughout your day. If you plan back-to-back sessions, you’ll burn out quickly and won’t be able to make the most of the events on offer.
And don’t be afraid to skip out on sessions if they’re not what you thought they would be. This is your chance to make the most of your experience – so don’t waste time in sessions that don’t suit you.
Connect With the Speakers
Anyone speaking or on a panel at an event is an expert or industry leader – these are the people you want to know. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and even hang around after the session to tell them what you enjoyed about the presentation.
Getting a business card from a speaker or panelist is the aim since these are great people to have in your network.
If you don’t get a chance to speak to them at the event, follow up on LinkedIn or Twitter to ask a follow-up question.
Network at the Social Events
The social events at conferences are much more relaxed and a great place to meet new people. Most conference attendees will tell you that social events are more important than the actual sessions because these are where real connections are made.
Don’t be afraid to miss the start of a talk or event if you’re networking with people on your list – these are great connections to nurture.
Following Up After the Conference
Within a week of the conference, send a personal follow-up to everyone you met to let them know you enjoyed meeting them. If there is anyone you want to do business with, set up a meeting or Zoom call to get that relationship started.
You should’ve gained a lot of new knowledge from the conference, so now is also the time to implement what you’ve learned while it’s fresh. Go over your notes and recordings and create some goals to put all that useful information into practice.
Professional conferences should be on the to-do list of any busy professional. No matter what industry you’re in, there are some great opportunities to progress and grow in your career at conferences.
Start by finding the right ones online, and then put together a plan of action to make the most of the event. You never know who you might meet or what opportunities might present themselves.