Five Ways to Make the Most of Your Next Conference or Trade Show

trade-show-successPicture this: You’ve been getting a steady stream of emails leading up to a big conference. With thousands of attendees, it seems like fertile ground for new business, but you’re still not sure you want to pony up the hundreds or thousands of dollars to attend. Before you take out that credit card and hit the checkout button, a nagging question keeps running through your head:

Will attending this conference be worth it?

According to statistics on conferences, trade shows and similar events, the answer is definitely yes. Getting down to the dollars and cents, the cost of a face-to-face meeting with a prospective client at a conference or trade show is $142, versus $259 for a meeting in the prospect’s office.1 However, without a game plan, you’re essentially throwing money away.

Paths to Success

So, how do you tackle a conference with confidence so you can walk away with new leads, new blog followers, a bigger social following and a higher profile as a thought leader? Here are five paths to trade show success:

  • Draw up goals. Long before you don your badge, you’ll need a list of goals. What is your conference endgame? To meet new people? Grow your personal brand? Make connections with others or consolidate relationships? If you have more than one aim, that’s OK; just make sure you stick to your plan.
  • Zero in on key players. Before your conference, spend a few hours going through the conference agenda. Look at the programs, as well as the lists of speakers and attendees. Who do you want to meet? Make a list of five key people, and identify people who can make introductions.
  • Get strategic about breakout sessions and panels. Breakout sessions have more than educational value. You can use them to see what your competitors are up to, meet with peers and influencers, and even set up opportunities to participate in future panels. Be very careful about which panels and breakout sessions you attend. Remember: You have a limited amount of time. Make the most of it.
  • Don’t dismiss tech and software booths. Trade show booths are notoriously expensive, which is why even healthy, up-and-coming companies opt for tiny spaces. If your company works in the tech arena or frequently partners with tech companies, visit even the smallest tech tables. Why? That tech company huddled in the corner one year might be a force to be reckoned with the following year. Your attention will be appreciated—maybe even rewarded—later on.
  • Use social media to build up buzz. What’s just as effective as approaching influential peers and giving them kudos for a great panel or speech? Tweeting about it or posting on Facebook. Your conference or trade show social activity should have a dual purpose: to promote panels and peers and to build up a bigger following. Be generous with your tweets and posts for maximum effect.

Regardless of price, think of conferences as investments: investments in your brand, investments in your company and investments in your profile. Even if you attend just one conference a year, you can walk away with a bigger customer base, a higher profile as a thought leader and a treasure trove of contacts.

Sources:

  1. Sageworld.com, “Suppliers: 18 Powerful Statistics on the Value of Exhibiting at Tradeshows,” May 14, 2015, www.sageworld.com/blog/index.php/2015/05/14/suppliers-18-powerful-statistics-on-the-value-of-exhibiting-at-tradeshows/.
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