Six tips for getting the most out of your next conference or trade show

Six tips for getting the most out of your next conference or trade show

Originally posted on LinkedIn on 1st October 2017

This month I'm heading off to my first Association of Proposal Management Professionals UK conference. Despite working in a bidding and business management role for over eight years, I haven't ever had the opportunity to attend the UK's annual event.

I'm quite nervous!

I am imagining the event will be the bidding and proposals version of Glastonbury... perhaps I'm setting my sights to high, but I am planning and preparing like I'm about to face the mud, crowds and mayhem of the UK's biggest festival.

To help me prepare I reached out to some seasoned conference goers, thank you to Strategic ProposalsBaachuBid Solutions and TDL-Creative who have all helped me get my plan in place.

I've captured my planning in the six tips below, I would be interested to hear yours. Find me on Twitter (@mike_reader) or comment on this post on LinkedIn

1. Select a mix of topics; some you're familiar with, some which you're not

It's easy to fall into a trap of just seeing the speakers which you know and focusing on the topics you know about or like.

But, you're at a conference to experience new ideas and perspectives, so take a chance to see a mix of presentations, from those covering people management, to individual development, through to ones which focus more on tools and products.

By getting a good mix of topics you should get a more rounded experience from the event, getting more bang for your buck.

2. Use your breaks to meet exhibitors

From sitting on on the other side of the table, I can see the smart phone is killing the ROI you can get from exhibiting.

Gone are the days when people browse exhibitions to find out about new products. If they're not eating or drinking coffee, they're on their phones catching up on emails.

I want to recommend you leave your emails alone and visit those poor exhibitors during any coffee breaks.

It gives you a chance to get another perspective from your visit and a chance to network with those who are tied to the stand to stop any over-zealous visitors taking more than one branded travel mug or pen.

3. Think of questions in advance

Preparation is everything, so thinking about the presenters and topics and then working out what you want to find out is a no brainer.

You can take this one step further and plan out the questions to ask in advance of the talks.

Nothing is worse for a speaker than the silence that follows "any questions" at the end of a presentation, so preparing some easy to answer questions around the topic you're expecting is good practice.

It will also help you keep focused during the talk; the last thing you want to do is ask something which was answered five minutes earlier!

4. Connect with speakers before hand

Points 4 and 5 are linked and are equally important.

Before the event, find speakers you're interested in hearing from and connect on social media. This might be a quick tweet like "I'm looking forward to hearing from @handleat the xxx conference next week", or a more direct introduction asking a question or introducing yourself.

Speakers will thank you; getting some early indication of the type of audience they will face will help them prepare and you can use this to your advantage to begin networking early and hopefully get a bit more out of any interactions you may have at the event itself.

5. Stay connected on social media

Find the conference hashtag. And hope it's short and memorable for the right reasons (anyone remember #susanalbumparty - the hashtag for Susan Boyle's Album Party?).

When you're at the event, jump on twitter and join the chat that will be going on by following the conference hashtag. Tools like tweetdeck will help you track a specific hashtag. It's a great way to expand the networking opportunities and find out about any extra events or festivities that may be happening.

6. Download my free conference planner

In preparing for the APMP conference, I made a quick planner which helped me plan who I was going to see and what I wanted to get out of it.

If you visit the original version of this article on LinkedIn you can download a copy of the planner for your own use!

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