How I Prepared for My First Business Conference: 7 Important Takeaways
Heading into my first business conference in the buzzing city of London was quite overwhelming! So many things to plan, consider, and organize before I even got a chance to arrive at the conference! Luckily I was teamed up with four colleagues (and great mentors) who are well-versed in this world. And this made me think, why not share some of the knowledge I’ve gathered over the past few weeks? So, here are 7 tips and best practices to help you gain the most experience before at your next conference:
1. Pre-Plan Schedule
Many conferences run for a few full days. The one I went to ran for 2 full days. I didn’t want to waste any time at the conference itself, that’s why I made sure that everything, and I mean EVERYTHING was planned and booked ahead of time. From flights to hotels to food and even a local SIM card were taken care of in advance. The one thing you must have to successfully exhibit a conference is – you guessed it – attention! Taking the time to organize everything ahead of time ensures that your focus is going to be solely on the conference.
2. Map Out Conference Strategy
Considering I’m not a salesperson or directly in contact with prospects, having to communicate face-to-face and actually meet my industry peers was a whole new frontier for me. My goal – and so should yours – was to build relationships, expand brand awareness, and most importantly, collect more leads for my company!
Next, my execution had to be aligned with these goals. To do so, each person in my team was assigned a specific task. This helped to reduce stress at the conference itself and ensure that everyone was on the same page. For example, my team discussed our booth duties – when and where we would all be. All in all, we strived to actively participate as much as possible in the conference. The more people we delivered our pitch to, the more we expanded our company’s awareness.
Another frontal activity I had to get accustomed to was ‘networking’. Conferences give you an opportunity to speak to A LOT of people, therefore it was important that I knew our product inside-out; well enough to communicate it fluently to prospects and avoid mumbling. I also did some research on which competitors are attending the conference. By identifying our competitors’ weaknesses and strengths, I was able to better position our product’s added value. Before attending your next conference, internalize your product or service’s strengths in order to fine tune your message, making sure it’s clear and concise.
3. Prepare Plenty of Marketing Collateral
The overarching goal of attending a conference is to promote your company, right? Therefore I had to bring enough marketing materials to hand out to prospects – 30 kilograms(!) worth of material. Now that was heavy. Besides bringing a bunch of business cards, I also organized colorful flyers and printed physical copies of our best-performing eBooks.
When preparing the marketing collateral, I made sure that all of the messaging, content, and call-to-actions supported our company goal. And last but not least, if there’s something valuable I learned in my B.A. it’s that branding is everything. Branding affects the human psychology, including consumer behavior. How does this apply to conferences? Well, it influences how well your prospects can recall your company name. That’s why I kept all of our marketing resources consistent in terms of brand colors, typography, language, images, etc.
4. Plan Social Media Strategy
Another important lesson I learned from the conference is not to wait until after to post on social media. Take advantage of the momentum while you’re there! Social media is a vessel for creating a buzz around your exhibit. To leverage this, I packed our social pipeline with lots of conference-related content – and scheduled it in advance. Quick tip: let your followers know the exact number of your stand so they can look out for you!
Another tactic I utilized on social media was enticing people with freebies. You could take a slightly different approach by unveiling a new feature for the first time or giving free demos! No matter what the focus of the conference is, your social media strategy should complement it. For example, I used LinkedIn for connecting with prospects I met. Facebook and Twitter were also important for posting pictures and videos of my real-time experience!
5. Encourage Employees to Share
Since there were plenty of companies fighting for our audience’s attention, I employed a unique strategy – employee advocacy. Believe it or not, employees are your most valuable marketing asset. Cumulatively, they have a much bigger follower-base than your corporate social accounts alone.
Throughout the conference, I empowered my teammates to do some live sharing and tweeting. Harnessing their untapped reach helped to drive our content forward and ensure its received with more trust. But I didn’t just want them to share once or twice. For it to have an impact, employees needed to stay committed. The key was to make the process as effortless as possible for them. Using our employee advocacy platform, employees quickly accessed ready-made social content and all they needed to do, was hit share.
— Daniel Kushner (@danielkushner) March 22, 2017
6. Swag Up the Booth
Although it was my first conference, the glaring truth was that adding ‘swag’ to your stand attracts more prospects. The trick is not to be generic. People are bored of seeing the same old pens, key holders, and sweets with companies’ logos on them. If you want to pull prospects closer to your booth then your freebie or gift bag needs to make a memorable statement. Try to think outside the box. What is something that people can relate back to your company, country of origin or work culture? It doesn’t have to be extravagant. People are most likely going to throw it away or give it to someone else, so your idea should be cost-efficient yet enticing.
7. Look & Feel Good
Are you ready for my final takeaway? Ladies and gentleman, dress professionally but stay comfortable. You’re going to be on your feet for long hours and it can get quite exhausting. Depending on the company you’re representing, a suit is not always necessary. For example, our workplace embraces casualness, so some button-down shirts and black trousers were good enough. Try to wear breathable materials. I know I’m getting too detailed here, but don’t make the same mistake I did by wearing polyester. In terms of shoes, it’s really a no-brainer. Don’t come with sneakers, but make sure your shoes fit comfortably.
Plan, plan, and plan some more – spontaneity is not meant for conferences. Save yourself the trouble of having to buy and book things by preparing it all in advance. Map out your strategies for the conference itself and on social media. Generate as much hype around your company’s presence – employee advocacy does the trick. Bring plenty of marketing collateral to hand out to prospects, ensuring it’s on-brand. Make your stand attractive to prospects by either swagging it up with some unique freebies or being super friendly. And most importantly, be cool. You know your company better than others, so let your confidence shine and remember to communicate the value of your product or service.