9 Guaranteed Ways to Make Industry Events Worth Your While

Rachel Leist
Rachel Leist




In 2012, one industry raked in $13 million in revenue.

Excuse me, I had a frog in my throat, what I meant to say was $13 billion. $13 billion in revenue. Know who I'm talking about? That's right, the event and trade show industry is the one rollin' in dough.

Now ask yourself ... how much of that money came from attendees clutching a stack of business cards, floating around aimlessly looking for a sense of purpose and brochures to fill their swag bags?

Like, probably around one billion? Just ballparkin' it.

We've all been there -- at an event (maybe INBOUND 2013, wink wink), unsure of what to do with yourself or what you're supposed to bring back to your boss to justify his or her expenditure on your flight, ticket, and hotel room. So instead of just floating around "networking" (whatever that means ... but stay tuned, because I'll tell you what it means), let's figure out a way for you to feel way less awkward, give you a sense of purpose, and ensure your time at your next industry event isn't a painfully wasteful experience. Here are my recommendations after organizing and attending my fair share of industry events!

Network ... Of Course

One of the biggest reasons people attend industry events is so they can network with others in their industry. But what the heck does networking really mean? For some, it's freaking out in a corner reliving your most traumatic high school dance. For others, it's maniacally shaking as many hands as possible and forcing business cards onto unsuspecting victims. Let's strike a middle ground, shall we? I think you'll find yourself quite comfortable there.

Before attending an event, think about some questions you could ask people you meet that are both important for you to know, and easy for them to answer. Having some questions in your back pocket will help you bring out your inner social butterfly, even if you naturally default to wallflower. Some good areas to ask about are:

  • The Person's Company -- Where do they work? What does that business do? Who is their target audience?
  • Their Job Role -- What department do they work in? Do you have any colleagues in common? Do you have any job functions in common? Is there anything about their role you've always wanted to learn more about?
  • Reason for Attending the Event -- Why are they here? Are they sponsoring? Meeting with customers? Speaking? Is it their first time here?

It's easy for others to get talking about themselves -- their business, their job, the things they do every day. Showing a genuine interest by asking questions of this nature helps break the ice, put both of you at ease, and open the doors to finding common ground that can keep your conversation flowing naturally. It's also a good idea to have your 30 second elevator pitch ready should it come up in these conversations. If you haven't prepared an elevator pitch, check out this blog post that tells you how to do it.

At first networking can see, scary -- I mean, it's a big room full of people you don't know -- but after you start carrying a conversation, you will soon realize it is not as awkward as you may have thought. After all, almost everyone else there is probably similarly uncomfortable. Be the one to break the ice, be welcoming, and save others from being the awkward ones standing along in the corner.

Generate Leads

There's a huge lead generation opportunity at any event, and it's a fantastic way to demonstrate the ROI of an event to your boss if that's something you struggle with. Imagine coming back to your office with a handful of leads to dole out to Sales to call, or Marketing to nurture. I'd anticipate a pretty great homecoming reception.

As you're networking and people are talking about their companies, you have a perfect opportunity to align your company's products or services with their pain points. See those questions from the previous section about networking? They all allow you to ask follow-up questions to determine if there's a fit. If someone's talking about their day-to-day job functions, their target audience, the problems their company solves, that sounds kind of like the conversation you'd have with a prospect on a Sales call, doesn't it?

Now, this doesn't mean you should be shoving your company down people's throats ... it means if you happen to talk to someone for whom your products or service are a good fit, you mention it and offer to take a conversation offline. Then you follow up with them after the craziness of the event is over, and recount specific details of your conversation together so they can recall who you are, what conversation you had, and why it mattered. Remember, events are hectic, and everyone's vying for someone's attention -- it's on you to provide meaningful follow-up if you want to generate quality leads from in-person events.

Close a Deal

For some of you event attendees out there, your goal may be to close deals right then and there. This could be applicable for businesses with both short and long sales cycles, B2B or B2C, with product or service offerings.

Before you go to an event, do some research to see who's attending. LinkedIn Events is a great tool for this, as is Twitter if you perform a hashtag or keyword search for the event. Most importantly, clue your sales organization in on the events you're attending. Posting who is attending which events in a public place -- like an internal company newsletter, forum, or wiki -- makes it easier for your sales reps to connect you with prospects they're speaking with that are attending the same events. Imagine someone being able to say, "Oh, you're going to INBOUND? I think a few people I work really closely with are, too. Let me see ... yep, Christof and Hortensia are going to be there. They're attending the session on [insert prospect pain point], maybe you can go together?"

Facilitating a little matchmaking of this nature sets you up to actually close a couple deals while you're attending an event -- and at the very least, you can have some more meaningful conversations with the people in your pipeline.

Establish a Co-Marketing Partnership

Many companies are looking to enter into co-marketing partnerships to allow their brands to work together on promotional efforts with co-branded content, and gain mutual benefit from the endeavor. The problem? If you aren't already super tight with the people in your industry, it's hard to forge these relationships. That's why industry events are such a great opportunity for establishing co-marketing relationships!

The best partners are the ones that align with your company or brand to ensure that your goals are the same ... or at least similar. So, do a little research to see who is attending your next event. Are there any companies you've heard of? Are there any you think could be a good fit to work with your business? Are there a few in particular you've had your eye on? If so, are any of their employees attending the event, too? Are any of the speakers great potential co-marketing partners? If so, can you sign up for their session?

When you're at the event, introduce yourself to these new folks to start a relationship and learn what their priorities are. What are their business goals? What projects are they working on? Who is their audience? What do they want to do better? Even companies you may not have heard of before could be working on projects that align very well with your business, so having these conversations with some people you might not have expected to be a great co-marketing fit. It could still yield some awesome opportunities to take home to the office with you!

Discover New Tools, Technologies, and Software

Many conferences have a part of their event dedicated to exhibitors and vendors. Typically event coordinators choose companies to participate in their conference that align with the industry. Take a look at the list of exhibitors before you go to the event and see if any may be of interest to you or your company. You can always learn about new stuff that can make your business work more efficiently and effectively -- or at the very least, use this as an opportunity to learn about the new stuff that's out there, even if you're not looking to make any big purchasing decisions in the near future.

If you're interested in exploring new tools and technologies, this is a great opportunity to get a face-to-face demo. You should also ask for some case studies or customer examples -- in fact, some of their customers might be at the event. (Note: If you want to pull the trigger, be sure to ask for a price discount -- that's pretty common for trade show or event purchases.)

And hey, at the very least, these are a good way to brush up on your chattin' chops for those attendees that err on the shy side. The burden's on exhibitors and vendors to chat it up with you, not the other way around, so it's a good way to get warmed up for networking later on.

Attend Conference Parties 

We get to party!? Heck yes you do. When you go to a conference, there will usually be some type of party -- whether a simple happy hour, or an elaborate post-conference shindig that lasts into the wee hours of the morning. At first glance, you may think these parties aren't worth attending; after all, you're at the event on your company's dime, right? Think again.

Conference parties are not only supposed to give attendees a break from the full day of learning and sessions, they're designed to make networking easier and more natural. You can learn so much from just talking to other people at the event: Finding out what business challenges they're facing, what steps they're taking to fix them, what major trends they're seeing in the industry, and even recommendations for other people and companies to work with.

The party may be positioned as "free food & drinks," but these events are usually way more than that ... these are where deeper relationships are forged that you can maintain after the event's over and done with.

Educate Yourself

So you're supposed to go to an event and learn things. Duh. But at times it's hard to figure out exactly what you need to be bringing back to your company. Do you need to come back with action items that can be implemented at your company? Do you need to come back with the speakers' presentations so you can share that with your company? What do you need to do to show that the money spent going to the conference was worth it?

Well, all of the above at best -- but some of the above is still pretty darn good!

Before you go to the event, set expectations. Your top priority should be to attend the sessions that can help you do your job better and more efficiently. If there are specific action items you can take back to your company that go outside the scope of your particular position, that's even better. Finally, try to gather as many deliverables to share with your company as possible. Often presentations will be sent to attendees at the end of the conference, but sometimes everything is kept private. So take good notes, and do what you can to teach others at your company what you learned.

Educate Others

Because events are so ripe for networking -- not to mention everyone's in learning mode -- it's a great opportunity to position yourself as a thought leader by educating others. You don't have to have a speaker slot to do that, either. Consider:

  • Live-blogging the event so your network can learn what you're learning even if they're not in attendance, and other attendees can learn highlights of what's being taught in other sessions
  • Live-tweeting the event to share the nuggets of wisdom you're picking up from other attendees and speakers
  • Offering your advice, or even helpful content, when networking with others

Offering helpful, educational content during an event is a fantastic way to leave that event with some more thought leadership clout than you had when you first arrived. Works pretty similar to inbound marketing ;-)

One Final Word of Warning: Get Some Sleep!

Events can be exhausting. Events can also span multiple days. Trying to go to everything an event offers is possible ... but can also make you burn out on day one. Look over the schedule, and think about what parts of the conference you must go to. If there are parties you want to attend, you may want to consider going for a little and leaving early so you can be at the top of your game the following day. Get your rest, eat well, and don't party well beyond what you're used to, otherwise you'll find you're too zonked out to take advantage of all the opportunities there are at that great event you've invested time and money into attending.

What other tips do you have when attending industry events?

Image credit: FooNar

Topics: Conferences

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