Getting the Most From Live Events: A Guide for Attendees, Hosts & Participants

    by Rachel Sprung

    Date

    April 12, 2012 at 9:00 AM

    attending events introductory3

    There are thousands of conferences every year, and thousands of opportunities for attendees, exhibitors, speakers and conference planners to benefit from these events. However, most of these chances are lost in the chaos of an event and the post-conference wrap-up. In fact, according to a study done by SiriusDecisions, 80% of companies don't even follow up with leads after a trade show.

    So what can be done to make sure you get the most out of an event, whether you are attending, part of the conference, or throwing the event? This post will break down the ways everyone can squeeze every last ounce of ROI out of in-person events.

    If You're an Attendee

    Attendees go to events to learn how to do their jobs better. They want to hear from thought leaders, make new connections, and walk away from events more valuable to their company. Here's how you can do that if you're attending an event.

    1) Meet everyone you can.

    When people think about attending an event, one of the first things they think of is the networking possibilities. And for good reason! You could meet a future co-worker, boss, mentor, or just a plain ol' smart person there.

    But networking is much easier said than done. If you're not sure where to start, begin with the basics -- just ask what company they are from and what their job is. Then move on to talking about projects in progress that might be interesting based on what your roles have in common. Close out the conversation by asking if you could keep in touch for the future, and explain how they would benefit from the relationship.

    Not everyone carries business cards anymore, but don't let that stop you from asking for one to make staying in touch easier. Then after your conversation closes, jot down some notes on the back of their business card so that you remember the highlights of your conversation and can follow up in a meaningful way once you get home.

    2) Get exposure to other companies.

    It isn't enough just to hear executives at companies speak; you should network with the companies who are similar to you. In fact, sometimes it is more helpful to talk to people who have the same positions in other companies than to talk to head honchos or speakers. Meeting others who are in the same shoes as you can be helpful to learn what tactics they are using, how they manage up, and what their businesses are doing to succeed. This provides the opportunity to learn from their struggles and triumphs and even see how competitors compare to your company.

    LinkedIn Events is a great resource to consult before attending events so you can do some recon work to see who will be attending events, and learn about their current positions, work history, and network connections. You should also plan in advance what types of questions you want to ask and who in the company you want to meet. That way you are prepared for conversations, and have some ideas about how these encounters can turn into co-marketing opportunities!

    3) Learn how to improve your business from the speakers.

    Conference sessions, especially those that present case studies, offer fantastic, actionable ideas about how to improve your business. If slides are used, request the presentations from the speaker or conference organizer so you can bring them back to your office after the event; this will help you better listen, think, and ask questions during the presentation instead of scrambling to take notes. You should also sit as close to the front as possible so you can ask the speaker questions after the presentation. Speakers plan to stay after the presentation for this reason, so take advantage of it!

    4) Make the lessons you learn actionable.

    It's easy to waste money on events if you don't have a goal in mind about what you want to achieve from your attendance. Before you go to an event, set that goal -- it could be making 5 new connections for business development opportunities, growing your opt-in email list, or even finding a new employee. As you go to the sessions, sponsor areas, and networking events, keep your eye on the ball to achieve that goal, and take notes on what actions you will take when you get back to the office. Then, you know, do it. And don't forget to share what you learned with your co-workers, too -- at HubSpot, we frequently put together short presentations for our weekly meetings to share what we learned at the events we attended.

    5) Set new goals based on what you learned at the event.

    One of the reasons events are so great is the opportunity to learn about new topics and subjects. When HubSpotters attend events, for example, we get excited to learn about new advancements in traditional media, or growing fields like mobile marketing and location based services. So when you hear mention of something new at events, set a task for yourself to learn more about the topic. This could mean taking courses, reading the latest books and online publications. or networking with a thought leader that you met at the event. The lessons you learn should not stop once the conference concludes!

    If You're an Exhibitor

    When a company sponsors an event, there's immense pressure to demonstrate the return on their investment. That may mean getting more customers or simply getting their company logo out to others. Here's how event sponsors can get more out of their event sponsorship.

    1) Measure event ROI.

    To demonstrate the ROI of an event, you need to set a goal and figure out how you want to measure it. Let's say your goal is to sell $5000 worth of your product. Figure out how much that means you need to make each day, and keep track of every sale you make. Or perhaps you are looking to gather email addresses; do something similar by setting a goal of how many email addresses you would like to get from the event, and map out how many you would need to get each day. Having the goals and measurements laid out beforehand helps guide your activities at the event, and prove the ROI of your sponsorship to your boss.

    2) Generate leads and customers.

    Events are the perfect opportunity to meet new people and talk to potential customers about your company. You may close a deal on the spot, you may not -- it depends on the nature of your business. Just focus on meeting new people and getting your company information in front of them.

    But how can you break through the clutter at events to get their attention? Do something interactive, that's how. That may mean holding a live contest in your booth area, hosting a demonstration of your product, or giving away services for free that you would normally charge for. If you are able to get potential customers so excited about your product or service that they are still thinking about it by the end of the trade show, you are successful.

    3) Meet other businesses to work with.

    Great partnerships can be built at conferences. It only takes one event to kindle a beneficial relationship for two parties. Checking the list of other companies attending before an event can be a great way to plan for these meetings and be truly successful. Research who you want to meet at the event and dive into the nitty gritty of their companies so you're prepared for your conversations. You can try to coordinate beforehand to have a meeting onsite, but if that doesn't work, prepare questions and/or proposals of projects you could work on together. If you are prepared, you will be able to quickly get their attention and cultivate great partnerships.

    4) Get exposure to people you wouldn't otherwise meet.

    You often have a lot of contact with people who are in the same city or state as yourself. Conferences provide an opportunity to meet others from all over the country or even all over the world. When you are preparing for your booth, don't have activities, entertainment, or materials specific to one region of the country; make it applicable to anyone who may be attending the conference. For example, just because you are having a conference in Boston doesn't mean you need to give away Boston related items or talk about locations in Boston!

    If You're a Speaker

    Speakers want to spread knowledge about their work and advance their career. They may also want to promote themselves or their company to gain more clout and a larger following. Here's how speakers can get the most out of attending events.

    1) Work on increasing your LinkedIn following.

    Growing your network is an important part of advancing your career. In today's world, that means not growing your rolodex, but your LinkedIn following. Connect with people before the event who you are interested in meeting, and after the event to keep in touch with those you networked with. As a speaker, many people will want to get in touch with you after, and they will turn to LinkedIn to make this happen -- so make sure your profile is comprehensive and up-to-date. During your presentation, encourage people to write a personalized note when they connect with you to help you remember when you met them.

    2) Promote your content.

    Often, speakers at events are also authors. If you fall in this camp, consider events a sort of book tour to promote your content. Look for conferences around the country that are directed at the best target market for your book, and even consider giving copies of your book away for free.

    If you're not a book author, you're probably still a content creator (or someone in your company is). Make sure your best content -- your blog, ebooks, whitepapers, etc. -- get some visibility. If you've written about a topic you're covering in your talks in an ebook, for example, include a mention of it in your presentation, and include a QR code that links to that ebook so attendees can read it when the event winds down.

    3) Meet other influential speakers.

    Chances are there are many other great speakers at your event -- take advantage of your "speaker status" to meet them! You may also have a free pass to a conference because you are a speaker; make the most of that opportunity by going to other sessions, introducing yourself to the speakers afterwards, and forming a bond with them based on the fact that you're both speakers. If they've been asked to speak, they're likely influential people with great networks; you can talk to them about future speaking engagements, guest blogging opportunities, and connect with them on social media to really leverage that great reach.

    4) Use your platform to achieve business goals.

    Speaking will get your company more visibility, so use it to advance your business goals -- brand awareness, recruiting, co-marketing, whatever it is! At the end of your presentation, tell people how to find you and your company. That might be a job posting, company page, Twitter account or landing page to gather more information from the people in the audience. If you are discreetly touting your product or service, be sure to talk about real customers and their results so attendees see how their problems can be solved (using your company, of course!)

    If You're the Event Host

    As the event host, you're going to get the most out of the conference by making it go off without a hitch, which means you're constantly running around taking care of details and coordinating resources. That also means you need to have superhero planning skills to make sure everything is in place beforehand -- employees, the press, your social media plan, etc. Here are the things you should set in place to ensure your conference is a success.

    1) Plan for PR coverage

    Part of having a successful event is inviting the media and working with them on various articles so your event gets the publicity it deserves. Make a list of journalists and publications who you think would be good fits to write about your event. Send them personal invitations, and waive the cost of attending the event. Give them exclusives with your executives and others in the company they are interested in speaking with. Planning for this in advance will make it easier to get more PR coverage before, during, and after the event, plus it will help build great relationships with journalists. Make sure others on your team have done proper research on the media who will be coming to the event and can represent your company well.

    2) Bring your company together to execute the event.

    Events are the time to bring together your entire company together to help the conference be successful. Every department should be there -- from marketing and sales employees to developers and consultants. Your sales team should put their powers to good use helping to sell your products/services; give them a conference specific discount code to use, especially if it helps them close deals on site. Your product team (if applicable) should be available to help answer technical questions that may be difficult for others to answer. Your marketing team and consultants should be there to network with customers and find out what makes them happy or unhappy, and to identify partnership opportunities.

    Because you'll be busy during the event, make people self sufficient. Appoint a few point persons to answer questions for employees, and provide guides that help answer common questions you people ask over and over throughout the day -- like if we have any extra batteries, for example. Yes, we do, they're with the technology point person, and your employees know that because it's on their event guide!

    3) Prepare for social sharing at the event.

    Almost every event has people tweeting and posting their thoughts and opinions to social networks. Come up with a hashtag for your event that everyone can use. It's a great way to see all of the feedback from the event in one place and also connect attendees to each other as another way to network. Put the hashtag on conference materials to ensure that everyone not only know about it, but is using the same hashtag.

    4) Don't forget about career growth for yourself.

    Planning an event is a huge undertaking. It takes a lot of organization, attention to detail, leadership skills and management skills to execute successfully. Even though an event planner cannot always attend the sessions, network with attendees, or ask speakers questions, their career and reputation benefits tremendously if they pull it off. Be sure to take pictures throughout the event for documentation, favorite complimentary social media tweets (and those with great feedback, too!), and update your LinkedIn profile to show that you pulled off organizing a great event!

    How do you make the most of the events you attend? Share your tips with us in the comments!

    Image credit: Guillaume Paumier

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