Make the most of your conference experience

Matthew Jonas | President | TopFire Media

Attending franchise or industry conferences can be a Catch 22. On one hand, these events offer unique opportunities to connect with prospective clients, business partners, other franchisees, peers and industry leaders. But on the other hand, they can take valuable time away from important daily activities within your office. Because of that, it’s absolutely essential to make the most out of your time spent at conferences, trade shows, and events.

Prior to the Conference

Planning ahead is essential in getting to know the conference agenda – including what events are scheduled and which guests are slated to attend. If this is your first conference, a lot of hosts will be welcoming and may often host a first-timers briefing. Make sure you have time built into your schedule if this is an option. It is a great way get the “low-down” on things as well as it gives you the opportunity to meet other participants who are new to the event and looking to form new relationships.

Preparing ahead of time will also help you plan your schedule around those sessions that are available and best suited for you, and allow you to build time to connect with important contacts while there. Chances are there will be an abundance of sessions to choose from at the conference. It’s important to take advantage of the sessions. But even more important, you must choose the sessions wisely. Think about the topics that interest you, as well as ones that will provide you the most value. When you’re deciding on which ones to attend, make sure you’re allowing yourself a range of topics, skill-building sessions, and social events.

Don’t be afraid to explore sessions outside of your comfort zone; you never know what key piece of information you might learn. Some other important things to keep in mind when planning to attend events is to always pack comfortable shoes, and to bring plenty of business cards. And don’t forget to consult with your marketing team or agency beforehand regarding talking points. You only get one chance to make a great first impression — you can never be too prepared.

At the Conference

When you arrive at the conference, try to make yourself stand out from the crowd. Most industry events will feature hundreds and thousands of exhibitors so it’s important to optimise your visibility before and while you attend. Don’t spend all your time outside of conference sessions using your phone or immersed in reading material. If potential clients, suppliers or business partners can’t see you, then what’s the point of you being there? By looking open and engaged, you are more approachable and more likely that someone will engage you in conversation. Additionally, if you are exhibiting at an event, having professional and approachable representatives at your booth, good quality materials and hand-outs, along with a compelling call-to-action (an incentive for people to provide you with their contact information) can advance your visibility to the next level.

While at the conference, make sure you are networking effectively. This is an essential first step in building strong and lasting relationships. Not every conference or event will offer you unlimited networking opportunities. However, more than likely, each one will present you with the opportunity to meet some important figures in your industry. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or hang around at the end of a session to say hello and to grab business cards. If you don’t get a chance to ask your question in person, this is a great opportunity to collect information for later follow-up. Connecting with the right people can help form partnerships that can be invaluable in helping you accomplish your short- and longterm business goals.

After the Conference

What happens after the conference is just as important as what happened before and during it. One of the best practices you can implement when attending conferences is establishing a follow-up protocol. The purpose of you attending these events is to learn and network so if you don’t reconnect once you return home, you risk losing that lead. A small acknowledgement of your meeting the person, even a reference to something you talked about, can go a long way in establishing a relationship. But keep in mind, the week following a conference is very busy for anyone who attended, so be respectful of their time and plan your connection accordingly. Additionally, keep your notes and information from the sessions and seminars and organise them in an easy accessible way. Review your notes to see what can be referenced or reinforced now that you are back at your office.

After a successful conference, you have undoubtedly gained a lot of new information, inspiration, and networking contacts to help you build business. Yet, don’t forget that one of the most beneficial things to do after an event is to share with your colleagues. If available, you can send a video recording of the sessions you thought were beneficial; or you can give a presentation summarising the event at your next staff meeting.

Plan ahead, work your contacts, and share your newfound knowledge with your team. If you manage event planning, attendance, and exhibiting properly, you should find yourself continuing down the path toward success.

Matthew Jonas is President of TopFire Media and a digital marketing strategist with over a decade of in-depth experience in SEO & PPC, social media publishing, conversion based marketing, inbound marketing, sales management, and online lead generation. Matthew has built a career dedicated to delivering an integrated marketing approach that achieves client success and long-term relationships.