Heading to a Conference? What’s Your Strategy?

The other day, I was on the phone with Aruna, the owner here at AMS, and she mentioned a conference she was about to leave for, and some of what she hoped to accomplish there. She had expectations, and a plan on how to meet them.

It’s important to have a solid strategy in place before leaving for a conference, because the days fly by in a blur and it’s easy to get sidetracked and miss out on important opportunities for networking and business growth.

Your strategy will depend a lot on your role at the conference. Are you a headlining speaker, giving a presentation, or simply there as an attendee? This will have an influence on your goals, and the amount of freedom you have to pursue those goals.

As a headlining speaker or other guest of honor, you may not have a lot of flexibility. The event’s organizers may have already scheduled you to give multiple talks and be part of panels or participate in meetings with other important guests. Your goal here is going to primarily be to further your reputation as a thought leader, network with other industry influencers, and possibly do a couple of press interviews or take advantage of other opportunities for publicity.

If you’re giving a presentation or serving as a panelist on one or more talks, you still have limited flexibility, but probably more room in your schedule to pursue your own agenda. In addition to sharing your thoughts and promoting your business through your talks, your goals may be to listen to other panelists to get a feel for the current pulse of the industry. You have more room for dialog, both with your peers and potentially with customers and industry analysts.

You have the most freedom when simply attending an event without any official capacity. You can set your own agenda. Are you there to network? Seek inspiration by attending talks? Look for potential new talent? Plan accordingly. Make opportunities for what you’re seeking.

No matter what your strategy is, you’ll do best if you plan ahead. Know what your commitments are, what panels you want to attend, and what meetings you want to keep.

It’s important to make exact plans whenever possible. Conferences are a great opportunity to see former classmates and colleagues, talk with respected peers, or meet with potential new hires. But it’s too easy to say “We should do lunch or coffee sometime” and then spend the entire event playing phone tag without ever seeing each other! If you really want the chance to talk with someone, reach out to them ahead of time and set a date. Try to leave a little wiggle room in your plan, so that if either one of you gets stuck in a talk that runs late, you can still make it work.

Having a strategy can also help you decide between two conflicting opportunities. Is it more important for you to attend a talk on emerging technology, or reconnect with a former colleague who you’re hoping to bring on board? That all depends on what your goals are for this conference!

What’s your strategy for conference success?

-AJ

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