Over the past five weeks I have been at three conferences. I met unbelievably intelligent people. Others were hyper motivated for growth. Others were simply at a conference for a free trip. What I saw with all was many did not have a plan.

"Wanting to network" is fine, but how? Are you going to sit with your co-workers at every session and every meal? Are you going to initiate conversation with strangers?

The most important aspect of attending a conference may surprise you. It's knowing when to walk way. Yes. The most important part at a conference is knowing when to walk away.

If you're at an industry conference as I was, you need to figure out what you want to learn from your peer group. Is it expansion into another state or region? Going public? Doing an acquisition? What size of company can help you?

If you are a $30 million company and you spend all of your time talking to someone and then realize they only do $5 million, was it a waste of time? You may think yes, but you have to alter your plan.

  1. Maybe you share a similar software you can gain best practices from. Even if they are smaller, they may be using the tool more efficiently than you.
  2. Are they a potential acquisition target? After meeting someone at an industry event, I later learned they were looking to sell their company. I wasn't aggressive enough to ask at the time, and I missed out on a great opportunity.
  3. Can you gain fulfillment from being the advisor to them? You may think you are looking to learn, however, sometimes you can gain more by teaching.

The plain and simple fact is if you are over bearing and annoying, you may ruin your chance. It's better to leave too soon with someone's business card and follow up than be there too long and leave a bad impression.

On the other hand, knowing not to leave and stay out all night shooting the breeze over drinks may lay the foundation for a future relationship. You have to have self-perspective.

When I was at the other two conferences we were invited to, it made me think about different things.

While most CEOs and entrepreneurs are always thinking about more business, I observed that many really aren't. The people you meet may not be great potential customers, but they may know people who are. Make a great impression and the referrals may start flowing.

I couldn't believe how many CEOs didn't have a smooth elevator pitch. It was like pulling teeth to learn what their company really does. I met a really nice guy who had a great business, but he couldn't succinctly tell me what they did.

I finally asked, "Who are your clients?" Once I learned who he sold to, I worked backwards and figured out what he truly did and how I could help.

The last part of attending a conference is to realize when you are wasting your time. There are people there purely for the free trip and they may be great people to drink with, but they are going to keep you from executing your goals of attending the trip.

I always leave a conference wanting to have achieved the following:

  1. Did I meet at least five people worth keeping in touch with?
  2. Is there one "good" lead for future business that I know of to act on today?
  3. Did I learn anything? Did the speakers make an impression? What were my takeaways to bring back to the office on Monday?
  4. I'm tired. If I'm not, I wasn't working.