I love conferences. It’s like the playoffs for executives. The potential to have more face-to-face, first impressions in one afternoon than all month is real. Bring your A-game, a polished pitch, your cleanest attire, and prepare to perform.

A great conference can compress weeks of prospecting and selling into a single afternoon…if you do it right. Here are 8 ways to master your next conference.

Background: 

This past week, we attended the BlueWolf’s Cloud Innovation Summit in Broomfield, Colorado and it was spectacular. We applied the following 8 strategies to get the most out of it.

  1. Game Plan Ways to Engage the Key Players: This sounds simple but it’s not as easy as it is to write. At every conference, there are at least 3-4 people you must meet. Do anything you can to get 30 seconds to a few minutes with these folks. The goal is for you to build enough trust they reach into their pocket and invite you to email them by offering their card. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. Insider tips: Have pre-scripted questions ready for them. Make the questions specific, engaging, and highly catered to their business.
  2. Embrace the Discomfort and Get Social Quick: Conferences are not the norm for most attendees. It is a radical shift in the everyday ebb-and-flow of business. Identify your discomfort quick, realize most everyone else feels it, and embrace it.
  3. Approach People in the Right Way:  If you see a person not talking to someone, rescue them from their silo-ed world; 9 times out of 10 they’ll appreciate it. Sometimes they’ll be an individual you want to speak with and he/she is constantly in a conversation. Insider tip: Politely get in the proximity of the conversation. Listen for a lull in the conversation and politely introduce yourself to the individual you’re seeking.
  4. Ask the First Question: After you’ve approached the individual, it’s important to get as much information from them early to help frame the conversation and get the most out of the brief engagement. Insider Tip: One of our favorite questions to ask a new person: “What brings you to the conference?” This simple question will tell you many things. Gauge their response and coordinate your efforts accordingly.
  5. Know What You Want: At most conferences, my goal is to get two things: their business card and something about the individual or company that will make my follow up email stand out even more. If I walk away from a conversation with those two items, I’m happy.
  6. Differentiate Yourself: Let’s say for example, you’ve got an 8 hour conference,5 hours  are talks and presentations where building relationships, leads, business are halted. That leaves only 3 hours of getting in front of people and sharing information. In these three hours, you’ve got to meet strangers, build enough trust where they offer their contact information, and that’s just the beginning! Insider tip: Most people are having similar conversations with other people. Try to shift the conversation, briefly, to something that will stick out. This will be extremely beneficial when you send your follow up email because they will remember you.
  7. Know When to Get Out: You’ve got the business card and made a memorable connection. Now it’s time to move on. You can always grab coffee or calls with the individual — after the conference — but now is not the time spend tons of extra time to build a relationship…there’s so many other people! Tactfully get out of the engagement. Insider Tip: One tactic I use is asking them: “Are you going to be here for the rest of the day?” It’s a good question to let the person know you’re about to move on and it helps frame the follow up. If they say “yes,” then there is a good chance you’ll see them later in the day. If they say “no, I’m about to leave,” then it prompts the next action to follow up. “Okay great, I’ll send you an email… or I’ll give you a call…”
  8. Get Online: Remember the example we used in #6? Our 8 hour conference has 5 hours of presentations and speaking engagements with 3 hours of networking. During those 5 hours, get online and get on Twitter. Find other people who are tweeting at the event and follow them, tweet @ them, and build relationships online while listening to the presentations and speakers.

Case Study: @NJoxen of Bluewolf gave an excellent presentation about how they used their software to promote cross department communication, marketing and branding. In the middle of the presentation she asked asked the audience to tweet to @Bluewolf way to promote #goingsocial and the winner would not only get retweeted but also an Apple TV. After taking a few minutes to craft a tweet, the result:

We won!

Along with being Retweeted to all of Bluewolf’s followers, a new Apple TV, we (@SalesLoft) were recognized in front of the entire 100+ people-filled banquet room. Pretty cool.

This is a great example of ways to build relationships online that transition off-line and facilitate more deal flow.

Use the following 8 ways to master your next conference.