Netta Douglas, a marketing and business development strategist — who currently works with the Victoria International Marina and Farmer Construction, and serves on the executive for Victoria Women in Construction — attends conferences to expand her business network and align herself with experts in her industry. She’s become a pro at making the most of her time, from prioritizing out-of-town speakers to strategizing accommodations to optimizing one’s presence through social media. Here are five of her top conference success strategies.
1. When attending with colleagues, divide and conquer. Connect before to work out a game plan: How will you use your time at the conference? Is there more than one speaker at the conference? Identify who will attend what. If there is only one speaker, don’t sit together. Debrief at the end. Share what you learned and whom you met.
2. Research: Know who is attending. Review the attendee list thoroughly, research names you are not familiar with and look up in LinkedIn, etc. Make a list of the people that you want to connect with. Study the bios of those speaking to ensure that you don’t find yourself listening to something that has no benefit to you or relevance. As a rule, I like to make a point of attending sessions, which have speakers that are from out of the country. The odds of being able to hear them speak again may be nil.
3. Be prepared. Have a pen and paper on hand to take notes. Arm yourself with an ample supply of business cards. Know your elevator pitch. Have something meaningful to say when asked. Don’t be afraid to ask how you can help those that you have just met. If you are at a conference with someone new that you met, you already have something in common. Ask them why they are attending? What they hope to have a take-away. Learn something personal about the people you meet and take the time to make notations on their respective business cards along with where you meet them and the date.
Hydrate. Drink water. Have snack food with you. Keep your sugar levels up for maximum performance.
4. Be memorable. Dress to impress. I attended a real estate conference in Vancouver, an event that was attended primarily by men dressed in dark suits. It was a sea of black. Of the 400+ attendees maybe 30 were women. Of the women in attendance, one woman dressed in a well-fitting red suit. She stood out. Everyone knew that she was there. People began to ask, “Who is the lady in red?”
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Know how to give a handshake. (Sounds obvious but you would be surprised how many don’t know how to do this.) Make eye contact when introducing yourself and speaking with fellow attendees. Smile.
5. Remember that the last day isn’t the end. Repurpose what you heard into a blog and/or social media post to position yourself top-of-mind in your industry. Align yourself with the experts in attendance and acknowledge them through social media. Keep the show guide, conference notes and/or hand-outs as it will contain the correct spelling and social media coordinates of those speaking. (It’s also a great place to make notations throughout the conference.)
Grow your LinkedIn network by connecting with those that you met at the conference.
Don’t hesitate to send a thank-you note via email — or even better, send a hand-written one.