Tips from a Lunatic:
Kristin Luna, @LunaticAtLarge, isn’t actually crazy. She’s just crazy for conferences. As a travel and media writer, Kristin has attended conferences all over the world, and agreed to share her pro-tips with us.
Like everyone else, her first tip is to research. She recommends a lot of the same techniques Dave Delaney gave us last week: using social media, and utilizing Eventbrite’s open attendee list. Kristin has had particular success networking with social media. When she was supposed to speak at a parent blogging conference—a topic she has no direct experience with—she reached out in the pre-event Facebook group. She met someone who showed her the ropes at the conference and later became a close friend. Then there was the time that she used her Twitter relationships with editors to end up writing for Southern Living.
Once you do get there, she says, hit the bar. As the organizer for KEEN, she worked hard on putting on after-parties for each night of the event. In the more relaxed environment, people tend to be more comfortable approaching each other. It may also be the only place that you are going to meet that one person that didn’t attend any of the same sessions as you. Use the cocktail hours and parties to make a personal connection.
While conferences are primarily an opportunity to build your own knowledge and network, never miss an opportunity to connect others, Kristin says. If you know two people who could benefit from knowing one another, make it your job to introduce them. It’s good business karma she says. Plus, you never know how you can benefit from that connection.
Steve Harper, @RippleOn, is the Chief Rippler at Ripple Central. He strongly believes in the ripple effect. One of the best places to see that in action is at a conference, as relationships build and intertwine.
Some people collect LinkedIn connections like coins. Steve does not. He believes that you should protect and respect your LinkedIn. After meeting someone at a conference, there can be an impulse to connect with them on LinkedIn. Steve recommends against this, and says it can actually damage the relationship. He suggests first following them on other channels, and demonstrating your worth over time.
As a conference veteran himself, Steve also recommends prior research and developing a game plan. When you get to the event, you should already know what panels and speakers you want to see, and whom you want to connect with—and you should place equal emphasis on these parts. While conferences present a great opportunity to build your network, the substance of the event should not be ignored. Don’t be that guy who disappears for three days at the Vegas conference. You’re there for professional development, and should treat it as such.
Pep Talk with Coach
Deb Cole, or @CoachDeb, authored the first book on Twitter, and currently serves as the Marketing Director for the New Media Expo. It is, as she puts it, “one of things she does.” She’s spent years on both sides of the conference scene, and lends us her wisdom.
As an early adopter of social media and professional event attendee, Deb has a better perspective than most on how social media has influenced the conference scene. At one time, it was believed that the in-person, physical event had seen its heyday, and would be replaced by the digital conference. The opposite has proven to be true, she says. The capacity to build online relationships strengthens the “#IRL” (in real life) events. This is an example of what Deb calls using social media correctly. More things happen when you meet face to face, and establishing a relationship beforehand amplifies that.
One of the potential concerns about the #IRL conference is the cost—tickets and travel can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars. Deb’s perspective is different. In her mind, she can’t afford to not go. The cost of a single business deal obtained from attending the event more than makes up for the cost of attendance, and the relationships made are hard to quantify in the short term. Part of attending is taking a long term view, she says. It’s about following up, staying top-of-mind, and leveraging the relationship in the future.