How To Prepare For A Conference

(Part 1)

Preparing for conferences can be pretty stressful.

You know what’s more stressful that preparing for a conference?

Not preparing. By going in blind to a conference, you skip the immediate stress of preparing but you also miss out on potential meetings, key sessions, and choosing the networking events your customers will be at.

The value of preparing for a conference the right way comes in the outcomes you get from the conference including return on event (ROE). By preparing for conferences in advance, you increase your chances of developing your skills, networking with the right people, and, most importantly, booking higher quality meetings in advance. Here is a primer on how to prepare for your next conference.

As Always, What Are Your Goals?

When learning how to prepare for a conference, you need to decide whether you are going to that conference to generate leads, learn, to network, or a little of each. Although you should always focus on generating leads when preparing for a conference, deciding whether to learn or network is another decision you’ll have to make.

If you’re stuck between going to an education session that teaches you a strategy you need for your work and meeting someone for coffee, how you prioritized your conference beforehand will be the determining factor in which one you pick. Our team at Summitsync has talked a lot about how to book better sales meetings in other posts so I’ll be covering learning at conferences. We’ll cover how to network at conferences in our next post.

Learning Is Your Priority. Now What?

Learning at conferences is a great source of accelerated education. Unfortunately, there are so many sessions going on at once at some conferences, you can’t go to them all. Here are a few tips we can give you here to absorb all the information that you need to and optimize your schedule for prime learning at every conference.

Look at the schedule weeks before the conference

If you’re optimizing your schedule for learning at conferences, you’ll first want to go through the entire session schedule and circle your top 10 sessions and cross out the sessions that you have no interest in attending. You can even put a square around the ones that you’re “in the middle” on. If you don’t have a visual image of the schedule, you can create a spreadsheet and color code your choices instead.

Create Your Personal Conference Calendar

Once you’ve marked up the conference agenda, add all the circles to your personal conference schedule. Some conferences let you do this through an app. You can do this if you want, but when preparing for a conference, you should be using the tools that you know best, and are most flexible to your goals. I use my Google Calendar and sync it with our platform so I can view my sales meetings and sessions in one platform.

It’s important to look at the schedule weeks in advance and put your top sessions on your calendar so when you set sales meetings you can still fit in your top sessions. After adding those items to your agenda, if you have any extra space, you can choose to dedicate that space to your squared agenda items or dedicate it to networking, which I’ll get to in a separate post.

What do you do if you have two circled sessions overlapping?

This is a good question, and there isn’t always an easy answer, so we have a few for you.

  • See if the conference records and distributes their sessions. If they do, make sure you get your hands on them. This takes the pressure off to go to every session you possibly can without a break
  • Identify the speaker of the session you can’t attend, and then email/tweet them saying you weren’t able to make it to their sessions and request a link to their powerpoint slides and potentially a phone call to discuss the topic. This might not work often because speakers have busy lives, but there will be ones that say yes, and THAT’s a truly valuable experience.
  • If you’re going to the conference with colleagues, split sessions and ask them to take detailed notes. Make sure you’re taking detailed notes yourself, as they will be relying on you for the information on the sessions that you attend. After the conference, swap notes and create a post-conference write-up to share with all of your colleagues.

Tips To Keep In Mind

  • After the session, go up to the speaker/panel, and ask a question that was burning during the session but you didn’t have time to ask. This helps you understand the topic even more but also acquaints you with the speaker who is a domain expert on the topic. Afterwards, contact them thanking them for answering your questions. You’ll be surprised how far this goes. You can also tweet them as they’re likely to be on social media sharing updates of the event themselves.
  • Learning at conferences is great, but if it’s your top priority think about getting a virtual pass. Conferences like Social media Marketing World offer a virtual ticket where you can livestream all of the sessions, gain access to the event app, and slide presentations. This is a great option for strictly learning at conferences or if the budget doesn’t allow for an in-person visit to the conference. You can also put the live streams on a television in the office for everyone to watch.

Preparing for conferences weeks or even months in advance allows you to attend the most important sessions, schedule sales meetings in advance, and network with other when your schedule allows it.

At the end of the day, a conference is a rare opportunity to learn from domain experts in a short amount of time. It is useful to take advantage of that time, so you can maximize your ROE (Return On Events). In another post, i’ll cover all about how to prepare to network and optimize your time to make as many quality connections as possible at conferences. Until then, enjoy your upcoming conference!