Most business professionals attend at least one business convention a year. You might attend many more than that depending upon your position and the industry you’re in. But no matter how many conventions you attend, if you don’t plan ahead, you run the risk of wasting time and missing out on valuable contacts and presentations.
Keep the following tips in mind to help you get the most out of your next business convention:
- Know why you’re attending. For some, conventions can be an important opportunity to meet other business owners, vendors, consultants, and experts in the field. Keep track of how many contacts you actually make at each convention by collecting business cards. If it’s information you’re after, pay attention to the new products or services being offered. When the conference is over, review your business needs and how (or if) the event helped serve them. If a convention you’ve been attending for many years no longer seems to be doing anything for you, you may want to rethink attending it every year.
- Review the schedule beforehand. Plan ahead to get the most out of your next convention. Review all of the workshops and plenary sessions and decide which ones you should attend. If necessary, delegate the task of attending workshop sessions to colleagues who are traveling with you. Also consider purchasing a CD of the sessions you can’t make, or obtaining the handouts if you can’t be there in person.
- Stroll the convention floor. Most conventions have dozens of exhibitors and vendors displaying the latest industry information and products. Make sure you carve out a block of time to peruse the convention floor. Stay away from those time-wasters who ask you to fill out surveys and watch their presentations.
- Network, network, network. Carry an ample supply of business cards with you at all times and don’t be shy about handing them out. (If you don’t yet have a business card, check out Business Card Basics.) Introduce yourself to the people sitting near you in workshops, while eating, on the trade show floor, wherever you can. Also, get the full list of attendees, including company names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses. This will help you continue networking after you’ve returned home.
- Be sociable. Most business conventions have multiple parties on the schedule, so make sure you find time to attend a few. Parties are a great, low-key way to meet new contacts. A word of caution, however: be careful when consuming too much alcohol at these events.
- Create a post-convention action plan. After the convention is finished, you might be tempted to toss those business cards into the circular file and get back to running your business. Don’t. Instead, sit down and create an action plan. Maybe this plan will involve writing a few important e-mails to follow up on possible leads. Or maybe it’s calling the new vendor you met at one party. Is it time to purchase that hot new product you saw on the trade show floor? Whatever it is, do it within the first week of your return or you’ll likely forget to take action.
Be sure to also read Covering a Convention by Foot for some good advice.