From the general interest shows that ASCII Group, ChannelPro, and SMB TechFest offer to the mega shows like DattoCon, IT Nation, and Robin Robins, it pays to plan, execute, and follow up in order to optimize your event experience. Let’s take a look at those steps in more depth.
Advanced Planning. Put together a solid game plan well in advance, and know what you want to get out of the event. Study the agenda, the layout of the venue, and the vendor list. If this is a “single track” event, you can skip the next part. But if there will be multiple tracks to choose from, it can get complicated. And if there is a mobile app offered, check it out. They often provide useful details such as speaker bios, vendor locations, venue maps and customizable agendas. Some apps also offer gamification and prizes for feedback and social media postings.
If there are multiple tracks and you want to wear multiple hats during the show, figure out which sessions are most vital and prioritize them. Most shows repeat only a few sessions, so there will be trade-offs to be made. For those times where you want to be in two places at once, figure out which you need to see live and which you’ll watch, listen to, or read after the event, and then work backwards from there. Plan as if you’ve spent a lot of money on this event, whether or not you have. Even “free” events incur travel, time, and opportunity costs.
Execute Precisely. Don’t hesitate to change tracks during the event if you need to, or to leave a session if it is wrong for you; sit near an exit if you’re not sure you’ll linger. Whatever you do, remain respectful of the presenter and leave quietly. If you’re attending with colleagues, divide and conquer, then share notes. And while some sessions beg for live attendance, with all of the interaction that offers, others are might be more akin to reading a slide deck. When choosing what to miss, evaluate which sessions are really going to be better live and prioritize those.
Both single and multi-track events typically have a “vendor pavilion” or show floor. The vendors are there to educate and sell to you, but there’s rarely enough time to visit meaningfully with all of them, so study the list, and make a plan here too. If you enjoy the prize drawings, make a quick pass through the booths to drop cards (one each) and then come back for the real conversations as time permits. Keep track of where you’ve been so you don’t miss anyone. And if time runs short in the vendor area, you can always just get scanned and run.
Mingle, Network. Another benefit of these shows is the opportunity to network with peers and vendors. Attend the receptions, dinners, and parties and find others that do what you do to learn from them, and share. Find others who are doing things you don’t, and consider creating relationships with them to diversify your portfolio of offerings. Doing this well pays for years of show costs. In the final analysis, many shows offer the best value during the peer networking and social times in the bars and parties, where longer term relationships are often formed.
Follow Up. No matter how many fabulous people, products, and services you are exposed to, none of them will change how you do business if you don’t follow up. Make a serious effort to collect cards and then enter or scan that information, along with a picture from social media or elsewhere, into my contacts. Make notes about where and when we met and what to follow up upon. And if time permits, connect on LinkedIn and Facebook, and even make a checklist of items to follow up on after each show. These little extra efforts really pay off.
Have Fun. Event travel exposes you to new people, places, and ideas. Attend mindfully, spend extra time at the event in the bars, share meals, and make new contacts. If you can, add an extra day or two, take side trips, expand your mind, open your heart, and live a big life. Travel well.
JOSHUA LIBERMAN is president of Net Sciences Inc., a midsize network support firm offering systems integration and MSP services throughout New Mexico.