Making the Most of Industry Conferences: 10 Tips For Success
Showing up face-to-face is the first step towards forming more intimate and authentic relationships, but being present doesn’t necessarily mean productive.
It’s each of our responsibility to make the most of every opportunity to learn, network, and grow when attending an industry conference.
As we gear up for TRAVERSE 19, a travel + tech festival hosted by TripActions on October 2-3 in San Francisco, we’re rethinking everything we know about conferences.
We’re planning dozens of speakers sessions, lunch breaks catered by the Bay Area’s best food trucks, networking opportunities, and so much more.
Here our top 10 tips for maximizing the benefits of attending a trade show, conference, or in this case a travel + tech festival. Because it’s not enough to arrive, walk around quietly, sit in a few presentations, and stick next to the people you already know.
We are crafting a first-class schedule for you -- and we know that you’ll come ready to soar.
Expand Your Social Circle
We pretend that industries and organizations are built through meritocracy, but the truth is that up to 85% of job openings are filled through networks. Your soft connections also play a critical role in closing potential sales. It might feel easier to meet up with a few industry friends and current customers that you already know than branch out to meet someone new. Without your circle close by, a conference can feel daunting, but embrace the event as a chance to form new connections that can turn into prospects, closed-won deals, and even the next step in your career.
Start Connecting Before the Conference
We love the idea of starting your outreach to people in advance of the conference. Check the speaker roster, leverage the event app to find people you’d like to get to know, and solicit others attending to connect with you by posting about your plans to attend the conference on your social channels. It’s a great way to pre-introduce yourself before the conference, create new familiar faces at the conference, and coordinate meet ups in advance. If possible, get an introduction from a mutual friend of colleague on social media. You can let your new contact know that you’ll be at their session, or invite them for a coffee or ask to sit together at a session.
Check out the TRAVERSE 19 speakers to see who you’d like to connect with in advance of the festival. There will be founders and futurists, experts on culture and customer success, and travel managers from the most innovative and fastest growing companies in the market today.
Plot a Game Plan
Although there is always a headlining act, conferences today take advantage of breakout sessions that provide a breadth and wealth of insights, best practices, and learning to meet every attendee’s goals.
At TRAVERSE 19, there will be 12 hours of breakout sessions spread across two days. Attendees can choose between 20 different conversations that touch on innovation in travel, building world-class travel programs, forward-looking trends, technology, and high-level themes like culture and loyalty.
Plan your schedule ahead of time by noting which sessions are most relevant to your role, where there’s the most to learn, and/or whether there’s an opportunity to network -- whatever’s most important to you. Use the agenda to devise a plan specifically tailored to your goals.
“Look at all the sessions and events you’re interested in, then make sure you’re getting to attend a range of topics, skill-building sessions, and social events, and still allowing for some down time. And if you find yourself in a session that isn’t quite what you thought it was going to be, don’t feel bad about skipping out and going to a different one,” advises career and recruitment site The Muse.
Take a Visual Log
There’s no reason that a conference should be distilled into your standard email or Powerpoint presentation. Employees empowered to attend conferences should always consider how to best share learnings and insights with their teams back at the office. Photos and videos are a fantastic way to share an event with your team. They can see the set up, understand the atmosphere, and then absorb the content.
It is also useful in building a personal brand. If you want to be known as someone respected and insightful in your industry, then sharing your thoughts and perspective along with visuals from the conference to reinforce them is a great way to engage: Give others not attending in your network a front row seat through your posts. LinkedIn is becoming such a powerful platform for social influence. Be conscious about what you share. It will mean much more to share stories about trends, innovation, and new products than personal anecdotes from evening parties or your sleep schedule.
At TRAVERSE 19, remember to use the hashtag #TRAVERSE19 to share and connect on social so others attending and following the festival benefit from your posts.
Keep Track of Contacts
You’re going to be meeting a lot of people at any conference. We are welcoming hundreds of attendees at TRAVERSE 19, including travelers, executive assistants, leaders from travel management, finance, procurement, and HR departments, tech executives, and media. The relationships formed could change the trajectory of your career -- but only if you keep track of who you meet and follow up.
Best practices recommend sending a personal note to everyone you meet at the event within a week of returning home. We dive more into the art of the follow-up below.
Technology can play an important role in keeping track of contacts on the go. Download the LinkedIn mobile app for an easy way to connect or follow up with people you meet on the fly. Or try the CamCard app, which Skift founder Rafat Ali calls “a game changer for business cards.” You can scan paper cards, exchange ecards, and add notes to each contact.
Most conferences these days invest in a mobile app, which is a great way to see who is nearby at the conference. It is also a place where you can promote your presence. Take the time to fill in your personal profile on the app with a photo, description of your role, what you’re hoping to get out of the conference, and who you’re hoping to meet.
Conferences also have Facebook event pages and Twitter hashtags where you can join in the conversations and see who else is present. Twitter is especially helpful as people are sharing in real time where they are and what they’re thinking about.
“Today, probably even more than ever before, networks are a key form of social capital for achieving goals in both your professional and personal lives,” said Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard Business School, in the Harvard Business Review.
Take Care of Yourself
There are a few simple steps that help you show your best self at a conference.
Start by preparing for a conference like you would to pack for a quick trip. Take a few minutes to double check that you have the essentials: phone and laptop chargers, an extra battery pack, and business cards. Organize 2-3 professional outfits that you can put on without thought each morning at the conference. Minimize the chance of unexpected stressors. Pack stylish, yet comfortable shoes.
Once there, be conscious to check for opportunities to rest throughout the conference. We’re not talking about naps in the conference center or during a session. Instead, make smart meal choices, get in some exercise or even a morning walk, and prioritize sleep. You should of course enjoy the event, but you’re also here to achieve something. If you take care of yourself, you’ll communicate and articulate better -- and you’ll look your best.
If cocktail hours or late nights are part of the plan, be sure to sip sparkling water instead of vodka sodas or set your alarm 15 minutes early for a quick stretch session in the morning. The better you feel, the more you’ll take advantage of the incredible opportunities around you.
Organize an Intimate Networking Dinner
The small conference dinner is something we’re hearing more and more of. We recommend that you take the initiative in crafting a networking occasion where you feel comfortable. This get-together is more relaxed than a rushed coffee date or large conference lunch. It gives guests a feeling of intimacy and connection that can be harder to achieve in big groups. Make a reservation at a local restaurant for a maximum of 8 people. Be clear about your intentions; you’re gathering a special group to connect during the conference and talk about a certain theme or idea.
The group will largely be connected by you so get the conversation flowing by asking everyone to introduce themselves, note where they’re from, their favorite part of the conference so far, and/or provide an initial take on the topic at hand. The theme can be a specific part of the industry, a certain role, or something more general. Be sure to have a mix of people who already are familiar and new faces to create an easy-going and welcoming atmosphere.
If you’re looking for dinner reservations around TRAVERSE 19, check out our guide to San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood.
Take on a Competitive Mindset
While you might not be tasked with watching the competition, it is still worth the effort to look at how customers and prospects are reacting to competitive offerings especially at trade shows or product events. Attend competitors’ sessions, watch for their updates on social, and even meet some of their team members. This is a rare opportunity to really interact with the market in person, and there might be some powerful learnings that come from it.
“As you fly back from your trade show or conference, consider how you can make the event work for you, your team, and your customers. Think about how you can maximize what you've learned and share it in a way that will inspire your team and improve your products and services,” says consultant Val Wright.
You might even use what you learn at the event to come up with some new idea, a stronger point of view, or bold predictions to share with your team.
Communicate Across Departments
Returning to the office is a unique moment that you can leverage to foster communication across siloed departments. Get everyone in on the discussion -- whether they sit in product, marketing, engineering, IT, or sales -- to share insights, best practices, and learnings from the event.
It will improve the quality of ideas that result from your event attendance. It also positions you as a cross-department and confident leader who doesn’t hesitate to bring people together -- especially when it comes to driving your company forward. Show them how to seize travel (to conferences) as a strategic lever for growth!
Set an Out Of Office Email Responder
Set up an out-of-office reply even if you plan on checking work email throughout the event. You probably won’t be able to respond with the same speed or depth that you would in the office so let prospects, customers, and colleagues know that they might now hear from you immediately.
Replying to your out-of-office reply is also great for new contacts who reach out via email during the event. It is a reminder of the time you’ve shared together and an easy way to reconnect with these people after the event ends.
That said, be proactive about following up with every person that you met during the event. This is best done within 3 days. You should send a follow-up email and a LinkedIn request with a small note refreshing the person how and where you met. It is likely that everyone will be receiving these emails after the event so stand out with a personal anecdote or a favorite moment from the show.
It is also a good opportunity to share some of the insights that you gained from the event — especially with prospects. You can link to your favorite session and link to a TripAction article (we’ll be talking about every talk on the TripActions’ blog for weeks to come). Use what you learned about their specific role and challenges to provide a unique solution and case for why your product is right for them. The best follow-ups are detailed and upbeat so make sure to take notes throughout the event and after every conversation.
In the Harvard Business Review, Dorie Clark, a marketing strategist and professional speaker who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, wrote about her framework for structuring post-conference follow ups to new connections to turn them into meaningful professional relationships. She recommends setting aside time to process the event and identifying your goal for each interaction.
“What matters is capturing the data (including writing down where you met them, so you don’t forget over time), and also making a list of people you spoke with whose cards you didn’t obtain… a small amount of focused effort can reap long-term benefits and ensure the arduous days you spent connecting face-to-face weren’t wasted,” Clark suggests.
Join Us at TRAVERSE
For all these reasons and more, we are looking forward to hosting TRAVERSE 19, a travel + tech festival by TripActions, for the first time on October 2-3 in San Francisco.
There will be dozens of sessions that will cover travel policy, consumerization of business travel, artificial intelligence, travel program measurement, and duty of care. There will also be food trucks, music, and the opportunity to see the best of San Francisco.
If you see how beneficial TRAVERSE 19 will be to you in your role, we’re here to help make it happen for you. We’ve even crafted an ROI letter that you can simply fill in to show your manager why TRAVERSE 19 is worth it.
Learn more about the meeting of minds at TRAVERSE here.