I’ve been the conference newbie hiding in my hotel room too scared to go down to the bar. I’ve held up the wall at networking events instead of introducing myself. I’ve eaten M&Ms for dinner because I never made dinner plans. If you (or your company) are investing the time, money and resources to attend PubCon and to take time away from your day job and your family, you need to make sure you’re getting the most out of your conference experience. And that means taking advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, while also creating a few of your own.
Whether you’ve never attended a PubCon event or you’re not sure you’ve living up to your full conference potential, below are some tips to help you, er, optimize your conference experience.
Step 1: Create a Plan Before Attending
My guess is your boss isn’t going walk into your office on some random Monday and announce that you’re being flown to PubCon later that day. More likely you’re going to know a month or two in advance, so there’s no reason you should be showing up unprepared. Instead, arrive to PubCon with a plan for domination.
- Know your team’s most pressing marketing concerns and the few things you’d like to try and resolve while at the show.
- Go through the conference agenda and circle the sessions that will address your company’s top concerns. [Pro Tip: Ask conference veterans their opinion on speakers, as it’s their quality that will truly make or break a session. Liveblogging sessions for 5+ years, I can tell you who will rock it and who, well, won’t.]
- Create a list of speakers, vendors, and colleagues that you want to grab face time with while you’re in town.
- Prioritize said list.
Step 2: Do Attend the Opening Mixer
Every conference kicks off with an opening networking reception or event. Attend this. These opening mixers are great for newbies because it’s generally easy to find first-timers just as nervous and anxious to meet new people as you. Show up with a big smile, a great introduction and your business card, and start opening those doors. This is your chance to make some friends and connections before the show even starts. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll even meet someone to attend the next day’s keynote with.
If you’re in town with other people in your office, do not cling to them as a safety net. It’s fine to arrive with them, but be good about doing the rounds and meeting as many people as you can. Keep an eye out for the people you talk to on Twitter, the author of your favorite blog, and new faces who could become potential allies down the road. Do NOT just sit in the corner snacking on free cheese and sucking up drink tickets. You could have done that from your couch at home for a lot less money.
Step 3: Hit the Best Sessions
Don’t tell Brett I told you this but you don’t actually need to attend every session at PubCon. Sure, he puts his blood, sweat and tears into building an amazing agenda, but you only need to attend the sessions that sound interesting or that will help you serve a business purpose. The rest of your time should be spent grabbing meals with interesting people, checking out the vendors and doing things that will help your company. And thanks to people like me, you can find full internet marketing liveblog coverage mere seconds after a session gets out so you don’t have to worry about missing a couple. You go hunt down that contact and I’ll hand deliver you what happened when you get back. It’s the closest you’ll get to being two places at once.
Step 4: Use Social Media To Find The Action
Fifteen minutes after the last session of the day ends the conference hall becomes crickets. Everyone is off to dinner, a networking event or grabbing a drink at a nearby bar. As a newbie, however, you may find yourself stranded without dinner plans or any clue what’s happening after-hours that night. If so, use social media to your advantage. DO NOT STALK PEOPLE but use services like Twitter and FourSquare to quietly figure out where people are and what they’re up to.
- If you see a bunch of people are checked into the hotel bar, there’s probably a meetup going on. Head down.
- If you follow the conference hashtag and someone’s trying to organize a group for dinner, see if you can get an invite.
- If you see PubCon tweet the location of the night’s party, get your butt there.
Step 5: Have a Conversation In
Once you get to an event, you need to be able to hold your own when you’re talking to people. This is a lot easier when you have something to say or you’ve done your research on the people you plan to meet. The moment someone approaches you with “So, what do you do?”, should not be the first time you’re reciting your answer. Come prepared with an elevator pitch – not one that sells, but one that introduces you to people and tells them who YOU are, not your company. If there are people you’re particularly interested in meeting, know what you’d like to talk to them about or how you can find an in. For example, if you’re interested in meeting Outspoken Media’s CEO Rhea Drysdale, maybe do your homework and known she’s passionate about SEO trademarks and that she’s a comic book nerd. This will give you something to bring up when you walk up to her in a crowded room. If you’re looking to talk to me, know that I just moved or that I love really awful teenybopper music. Having that first line makes conversations a lot easier to slide into.
Step 6: Follow Up
If you’ve done your job, you should be returning home with a full brain, a pocket full of business cards, and a To Do list that will take you five years to actually implement. That’s fantastic… but you’re not done. Follow up with any potential contacts, send out your “nice meeting you’s” and keep those relationships fresh. No sense meeting new people if you’re not going to find a way to add them to your online Rolodex.
Attending a premiere search conference like PubCon can be a daunting experience, but it doesn’t have to be. Not when there are so many great people to meet, sessions to attend, and ways for you to come away like a superstar.
- Lisa Barone
Lisa Barone is the co-founder and chief branding officer at Troy, New York-based Outspoken Media, Inc., and for many years has been a prolific and popular live-blogger at PubCon conferences.