Attending an international conference isn’t always as glamorous as it sounds. As any seasoned delegate will tell you, it’s not all rubbing shoulders with famous speakers, impressing online connections in real life and closing big business deals over gourmet dinners and fancy cocktails. In fact, a long day at a conference, spent rushing from talk to talk, gulping down fast food and desperately trying to remember which business card matches which new face, can leave you feeling a bit like a deflated balloon.
Luckily for you, I’ve attended my fair share of international conferences and have picked up a few handy survival tips along the way. Here’s how to make it through your next conference intact:
1) Practice Your Elevator Pitch
Whether you’re just chatting to someone in a coffee queue, introducing yourself at a make-or-break meeting, or shouting into a potential customer’s ear at a beer-soaked after party, it’s helpful to have your elevator pitch prepped and ready to go. Vague and generic elevator pitches aren’t memorable, so make sure you communicate your unique selling point right off the bat. What sets your business apart from your competitors? Make that the focus of your elevator pitch.
2) Wear Comfortable Shoes
Part of your game plan is dressing for success, I get it. But keep in mind that conferences typically involve long hours of standing and walking. Nothing throws you off your game quite like aching, blistered feet.
3) Pick Your Top Talks and Workshops
Chances are, you can’t attend every single talk at the conference. Study the agenda beforehand and work out which speakers you absolutely can’t miss. Then, check the venues and make sure you know how you’re going to get from one to the other; conferences centres can be much bigger than you imagine and some events might take place off-site.
4) Treat Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner as Meeting Slots
Snagging one-on-one meetings with key prospects and customers should be one of your main conference goals. When you’re contending with a jam-packed agenda, however, finding a time to meet that suits you both can be tricky. Take advantage of the breaks scheduled for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and coffee when booking meetings.
5) Record Useful Details on Business Cards
There’s no point collecting business cards if you can’t remember the first thing about any of your new connections. Keep a pen handy and jot down key conversation points on each business card you receive. This could be something you have in common – maybe you’re both avid fishermen or you have children of a similar age – or a business-related point that will help you hone in on how you can work together in the future. Doing this will not only help jog your memory when you’re sorting through the pile back home, it’ll also help you personalise your follow ups.
6) Stay Well Hydrated and Well Fed
At the risk of sounding like your mom, don’t skip meals and make sure you drink enough water. Keep your energy levels up by eating properly and keeping a bottle of water on hand. If you’re someone who needs to snack regularly or if you have any special allergies, it’s a good idea to stash some snacks in your briefcase or backpack – like a few nuts, a protein bar or an apple – to avoid plummeting sugar levels and a catastrophic loss of your sense of humour.
7) Make Time for Play, as well as Business
Tequila isn’t just a social lubricator, it’s a useful business lubricator too. Conference parties are often where the best connections are made, so don’t spend the evenings hiding away in your hotel room. That said, beware of going too big: attending a business conference with a stinking hangover is a cruel and unusual punishment indeed.
8) Pick your Conferences Wisely
To get real ROI from business conferences, you need to make valuable connections with new prospects, nurture relationships with leads and existing customers, and bring home practical learnings that you can actually use in your own business. This means you need to pick which conferences you’ll be attending based on not just the keynote speakers, but also on who else is going to be attending.