For many people, the prospect of attending yet another convention, trade show or another industry event often falls somewhere between getting a root canal and getting dumped by your significant other on Valentine’s Day. (It’s not you; it’s me — yeah, right.)
That’s unfortunate because I’ve always found that if you approach these events in the right way, the time and miles you put in can bring you a great return on investment (ROI). The key is to understand that these events are less about sitting in conference rooms and more about making connections with current and prospective clients and business partners. They’re about meeting new people, reconnecting with old friends and colleagues, and forging relationships with the media.
Whether you’re attending your next conference as a vendor/exhibitor or individual attendee, here are some tips to make the most of your networking opportunities:
Whether you’re meeting contacts on the exhibit hall floor, in your company’s booth or at any of the many face-to-face networking events at your next conference, remember that there’s a thin line between promoting yourself and being overly self-promotional.
One way to talk about your organization is to come prepared with a well-honed elevator pitch — that two- to three-sentence description of your company that’s simple, easy to understand and memorable. Don’t get bogged down in jargon and technical specs — explain your product or service in laymen’s terms.
If you’re an executive who meets with media and analysts at industry events, that’s good advice for those situations, too. Talk to them just as you would anyone else you meet at the show. Be friendly, be yourself, and don’t be overly self-promotional. You want to position yourself as an industry thought leader, which means that sometimes the conversation will turn toward wider industry trends rather than specific solutions.
Pro Tip: If you serve multiple client bases that use your products and services in different ways, come armed with an elevator pitch for each. They need not be completely different and should speak to the pain points of the person you’re talking to.
The Social Network
Although you shouldn’t ignore social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram, you’ll likely get the most exposure by engaging with other attendees on Twitter. If you want to tweet but you’re on a tight schedule — and want to maintain your sanity — one tactic is to retweet influencers, including anyone who is effectively using the conference hashtag. (When you look at the conference hashtag feed, be sure the list is sorted by “top” rather than “most recent” to filter out some of the noise.)
You should always be authentic, and it’s great to choose tweets that resonate with your own brand. But it’s OK to retweet something interesting or funny even if it isn’t 100% “on message.” In fact, many attendees scroll right by posts from vendors that only tweet their sales pitch and booth number. Of course, you should post links to your own blog posts, company announcements, events and promotions. But it’s always better to join a conversation rather than trying to dominate it.
You may want to also consider taking a team approach to your conference tweets. Platforms like TweetDeck make it easy to post from multiple accounts at once, including your personal account and those of your team members as well as your official company account. This is a great time to follow new influencers and to engage with them to get likes, retweets and hopefully new followers.
Pro Tip: If you have a few extra moments, you can personalize a retweet by choosing “quote tweet” and adding a brief comment to make it stand out even more.
Make A Night Of It
Host a reception for clients and prospects. I’d recommend doing this the day before the event or on an evening during the show. If you can, send someone to tour potential venues in person before securing one.
Be sure to bring marketing collateral and branded goodies with you. One of the most memorable giveaways I’ve ever seen were plastic faux “ice cubes” with the tech company’s logo on them. They kept drinks cold, but the twist was that they lit up when submerged in water. Everyone was fascinated and seemed to find room in their suitcases to take them home.
Pro Tip: Get an early start; venues surrounding large conferences book quickly and early.
Go Beyond The Big Show
Trade shows are a fantastic opportunity to connect with potential clients and business partners as well as analysts and the media, but if you fail to follow up after the show, you’ve missed a key opportunity. Too often, attendees collect business cards, only to toss them in a drawer once they get home. You can also use an app that turns cell phone snaps of business cards into text files or makes photocopies of them. Send those to your marketing team so they can add them into your prospect list, and don’t forget to connect on LinkedIn.
Pro Tip: Write some details about the person you meet on the back of their business card as soon as you can so you have context when you follow up.
I know that large conferences can be busy and overwhelming. But planning ahead will help, whether it’s vetting venues, deciding what network events to attend yourself or making plans to meet long-distance contacts for a quick cup of coffee. Don’t rely on bumping into people by chance, even though it’s great when you do.
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