As someone who travels to at least a few conferences every year, I know there are some initial thoughts and experiences that everyone has.
First, if you have to fly to attend a conference, there's always the existential fear of a delayed or canceled flight -- it's irritating, and it can really foul up your schedule.
Second, and more important for you, is the perception that unless you're giving a presentation or attending as a product or service exhibitor, most conferences can end up being an enjoyable, but not terribly productive, use of your time.
It doesn't have to be that way.
I'm writing this article while on a flight to New Orleans to present at an accounting conference. As I boarded the plane, which was fortunately on time, I wondered what entrepreneurs and small business owners thought about the conference experience.
Conferences are a part of business life, whether you work in the corporate sector, are employed by a non-profit, have a position in academia, or run your own business. Professional associations, state level entities, and industry specialties have conferences on monthly, seasonal, and annual schedules, no matter what field you are employed within. Technology associations, venture capital organizations, and business incubators often tend to meet in a conference or group format.
These events have, so far, have survived and are even thriving in a business environment that continues to be disrupted (yes, that buzzword) by technology and virtual meetings. Being physically present and bringing your A-game can make the difference between sealing a deal and coming home with only some business cards to show for your efforts.
Warren Buffet has been known to comment that nothing beats a face-to-face meeting, and that you cannot shake someone's hand over the phone. With that positive outlook in mind, let's take a look at a few of the ways that you can hopefully maximize your next business trip:
1. Be sure to network.
No, I'm not recommending the usual type of awkward networking conversation that you are all too familiar with. Don't start with an elevator pitch or launch right into sales mode -- few people like being approached that way.
If there is a reception, or break, or even just milling-around-time at your event, go up and introduce yourself to someone and make a human connection. You might be surprised how many people are open to actual conversation.
2. Take notes.
Whether you are attending an industry conference, a conference for work, or a conference where you are trying to connect with a potential investor, make sure to take notes so you can remember what happened. Write it down, take videos and pictures (if allowed) of interesting presentations, or set reminders on your phone/tablet -- the method is less important than picking something that works for you.
As good a memory as you might have, you might forget an important detail or name, which can be prevented by investing a few minutes in organizing your thoughts.
3. Be present.
This is a two-for-one piece of advice that is part physical and part mental. At every conference, there are always people that skip sessions, wake up late, or cut out early to do some sight-seeing. If you have invested the time, money, and energy to attend this event, why not be fully engaged in the process?
Second, if you are in a conversation, listening to a presentation, or conversing with a product rep, truly try to pay attention and be present. A good first step might be, for example, to set your phone to silent and place it in your bag or pocket -- you can always check it later.
4. Follow up.
No matter how motivated and dedicated you are, you might forget to follow up. A conversation could get off to a promising start and then fizzle out.
Do not let that happen! As an entrepreneur, you know that being persistent and having consistency plays a large role in business success -- you should bring these same traits to your follow-ups. A personal touch can go a long way.
Traveling for business can be a time consuming and expensive experience, and can be even more frustrating if you feel you are not getting the most bang for your travel buck. That said, conferences are an important part of the business landscape regardless of what industry you work in.
Often overlooked by small business owners and entrepreneurs, business conferences and events can provide a fertile opportunity to network, build your brand, and make new connections you would not have otherwise.