Want to know a secret? The most important events to attend at a conference don’t actually take place during business hours.
Conference After Parties are Where Lives are Changed.
Hear me out: this is your opportunity to solidify all of the relationships you’ve been building at every panel, talk, and workshop you’ve attended. After a long day of scheduled events, people go to after parties to unwind and relax without the pressure of having to be buttoned up.
Sharing a drink and some laughs creates a setting where relationships can be cultivated, and not just stoic business relationships. These informal relationships are much more likely to help each other out in business than random strangers that briefly met in between conference sessions.
Still, when you attend a conference with thousands of people it’s not easy to stand out from the noise. If you’re an entrepreneur, you’ve invested significant money to be there, and walking away without meeting some people that could have an impact on your business is simply not an option. Fortunately, if you prepare correctly you will not only get noticed, but will have people approaching you to connect.
Can’t make it to the after party? Here are 3 other surefire ways to get the most out of a conference:
Give a talk or get on a panel
This takes the most amount of effort, but it can have the biggest impact. If you know you’re attending a conference well in advance, submit a pitch to speak at the event, participate in a panel, or run a workshop — the more attendees, the better.
If you manage to secure a spot to present in front of hundreds of people, you will get recognized everywhere you go for the rest of the conference. If you’re confident and do a great job, people will assume you’re important (which of course you are) and approach you to start a conversation.
Conferences often have calls for speakers when they’re organizing the schedule, so keep an eye out for new conferences that might need experts like you. You can even be proactive and e-mail the organizers directly to pitch ideas. Don’t worry about getting accepted as a main speaker — your only goal is to secure stage time any way you can.
Also, speakers typically get to attend the conference for free, potentially saving you thousands of dollars.
Leave a lasting impression when you meet someone
When you meet someone at a conference, the conversation always starts the same exact way.
“What brings you to the conference?” or “What do you do?”
Most people don’t pay a lot of attention to how they answer these questions, and even if business cards are exchanged, the conversation is quickly forgotten.
Instead of saying what you do, start by saying the most interesting thing about you, or a story that might leave an impression.
Do you run a company with an interesting name, like Carey Smith of Big Ass Fans? Then start the conversation by saying:
“Well, our customers always told us that we make some big ass fans, so I decided what the heck — and named the company that.”
If you’re at an industry specific event like a data conference, don’t just tell someone you’re a Data Scientist at Seamless.com. Mention something more impactful like how you analyze millions of data inputs every week to feed people all over the world.
Summon your inner “teacher’s pet” and sit in front
When selecting panels or talks to attend, your decision should be made with only two things in mind — ‘will I learn something that might change my business,’ and ‘would I benefit from meeting the speaker.’
Speakers and panelists always make themselves available to meet the audience after a session, but the only way to get to them is if you approach them immediately after the event is done. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck waiting in line only to be forgotten after meeting them for a few seconds.
Prepare exactly what you’ll say to this person before you come up to speak to them. Your goal should not be to sell them something or to get something out of them. It’s simply to leave some kind of an impression.
Tip: ask for their contact information or for a business card before you leave.
The next day you can follow up with this person, thanking them for their insight and their time. At this point, the best thing you can do is figure out a way to offer them value to solidify the relationship before asking if they can help you.
Following up right away is incredibly important as it shows diligence, respect, and professionalism. You’ll stand out from the rest of the people that they met, and have a higher chance of still being remembered. After all, you did the hard work of approaching someone important, so you might as well try to make something of it.
Meeting people in person is still the most effective way to make significant progress in your business and personal life. The relationships you build can pay dividends months and even years down the line simply because people tend to implicitly trust others that they’ve met in person far more than someone that they’ve interacted with online or through email.
Investing your time and money into targeted conferences and events is absolutely worth it. Just make sure that you’re prepared to extract all of the value that you can from the experience.