How many times have you typed ‘How to prepare for a conference’ in Google with no or little success? Personally, I have done it many times. Trying to put together all the information coming from different blog posts into one list didn’t really work for me and I was still missing some crucial steps.
Having attended quite a few technology and marketing conferences over the past years (see our Company News section here and my LinkedIn posts here), I thought I would share with you my top 10 tips to realistically prepare for a (technology) conference, from the very first research to follow-ups with new contacts.
- So without further ado, the first step you might want to take, as with almost anything you are not very familiar with, is researching the event itself. From the location where it is taking place to the kind of audience going to attend, there are many points you should take into consideration. If it is a recurring conference, you might want to take a look at the previous year(s) experiences on social media, for example using old hashtags or even asking someone who has previously attended directly, like a colleague or one of your connections on LinkedIn.
- Once you have established that the conference you found is actually interesting and worthwhile, you should have a deeper look at its website. Usually, technology conferences websites are well organized and easy to navigate, including a full and detailed agenda; a list of speakers, along with their job titles and brief company description; a list of sponsors and exhibitors. If after having analyzed these you are still really keen to attend the event, you should go through the conference days (big summits are spread over 2 to 5 days normally) and determine whether you would like to attend the entire event or maybe just the day during which most interesting sessions/meetings are taking place. Moreover, on some websites you can also download relevant collateral, like Power Point presentations or leaflets, I think it is quite useful to save these documents in Dropbox so that you can then share them with co-workers and take a final decision with your boss.
- Another tip I would like to share with you is: plan ahead! If you decided you really want to attend the conference you have definitely thought about the kind of attendance as well, i.e. sponsor/exhibitor or attendee. If you think your company might benefit from a booth sponsoring or exhibiting at the event, bear in mind that booths usually sell out quite quickly so you might want to register well in advance, even up to 6 months prior to the conference. Obviously, different attendance levels require different resources and budgets such as (marketing) activities and staff passes. Similarly, you might want to take into consideration the possibility of joining forces with a partner of yours you know will be at the event too. You might also be able to get a free ticket or a promo code to relieve your budget stress.
- Having sorted staff and attendance out, you now need to book plane or train tickets, depending on how close you are to the conference. So plan your journey as soon as you can as well as the accommodation and travel documents. Remember that some organizations also offer discounts for specific hotels and these are usually the closest ones to the venue as well.
- You are now halfway through your conference planning and as you get closer to the day(s) you chose to attend, up to two months before, you should start thinking about marketing activities, such as contacting other partners to share collateral and competitions, organizing and ordering items for giveaways as well as promotional products (technology gadgets are usually the most requested and useful), getting additional business cards, leaflets and brochures printed. Depending on the conference location and venue you might be able to have these delivered straight to your booth/hotel.
- During the last month prior to the conference you should try and connect with as many of your contacts as possible, especially if the event’s website has a connection tool available, for example MyInspire. More than likely, some companies will also host party nights and happy hours, so plan ahead and make sure you don’t miss your chance to network. Research the conference accounts on social media as well (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook…) and start to interact using the specific hashtag and handles. If most of your team will be at the event, scheduling some posts in advance according to the agenda might also be a good idea to ensure you will take part in the online conversations too.
- I would also recommend you have a look at your diary and move any meetings clashing with the conference schedule, set your out-of-office automatic reply and have some extra business cards in your pocket.
- Now that you are almost ready, you should also review your company’s elevator pitch and check that it is consistent with the collateral mentioned above. While at the event, don’t forget to collect business cards of each and every person you speak with as it can be quite hard to remember everyone you met once you are back at your desk – especially if you are jet-lagged!
- One of the last tips I have for you are some reminders for when you will be back from the conference and I think it is quite important to have these points in mind before attending the event: follow-ups and taking notes. These two actions are the most important steps you need to think about when you will be back at the office in order to effectively make the most out of the whole experience. You can also put together a short summary presentation, share it within your organization and re-use it for blog posts and other collateral.
- Finally, it might seem quite premature, but if the event is a very good one you could take advantage of early bird tickets and register for the following year too.
Whether you have a conference scheduled in your calendar or you are thinking of attending one, I hope the 10 tips above will help you with your planning. Feel free to leave a comment below if you think these tips are useful and if you have some more you want to share and don’t forget to check out our events page here!