Attending search conferences should be part of every SEM pro’s yearly routine. Whether it’s to network within the industry, learn new tips or tricks, find new business opportunities, or even just have a good time with like-minded folks, it’s important to get the most out of your conference attendance. The last thing you want to do is blow thousands of dollars and days away from the office unless you’re going to find it worthwhile to do so.
Although there are some good posts out there on conference strategy, I’d like to share my top twenty tips for making your conference investment of time and money a fulfilling experience.
- Plan your session strategy. The agenda should be available weeks ahead of time. Print it out and circle the sessions you know you want to attend. If there are conflicts, maybe you can go to the first half of one and then the last half of the other. Are there lulls in the schedule where you can take a break? Make your game plan before you arrive. You can always switch it up when you get to the conference, but at least you have a well thought out schedule ready for you.
- Stay at the conference hotel. Not every conference is located in a hotel or has one attached, but unless the cost is astronomical compared to staying elsewhere, book early so you can stay there. The few times I stayed offsite (simply due to the lack of rooms available) made my trips less enjoyable.
- Pack accordingly. This should be a no-brainer, but check the weather, folks. Just because it’s Phoenix doesn’t mean it doesn’t get cold there. And will there be any formal occasions where a suit/tie (or dress, ladies) will be needed? This is a general tip for good traveling but it’s even more important to consider as you’ll be representing yourself and your company to hundreds (maybe thousands) of people in your industry.
- Get a room with a view. Most conferences are several days long. Getting a room that has a nice view of the city will definitely make your stay more enjoyable. Call the hotel days before you arrive to see you can avoid a view of the parking lot.
- Check the speaker list. As with the session list, you should have a pretty good idea of who the speakers are before you arrive. Sometimes, you may want to attend a session of a topic which you normally wouldn’t go to except for that one of your favorite thought leaders will be speaking. The search marketing community is a small world – chances are someone who wrote an SEM article of interest to you may be speaking at the next conference.
- Get the lay of the land. One of the first things I do when I arrive to the site is figure out where I am and what’s around me. In the hotel: where’s the vending, where’s the ice, what time does the gift shop open in case I need a razor, when does the pool close, etc. Around the hotel: what’s within walking distance, where’s the closest convenience store, is it safe to walk at night, etc. At the conference: where are the bathrooms, where are the meeting rooms, etc.
- Pace yourself. Sitting there, hour after hour, looking at charts and listening to speakers can exhaust your mind. If you need to, take a session off. Go back to your room or take a nice walk. You’ll get more out of four sessions with a break than five without one. Stay hydrated!
- Don’t neglect your work at home. Some people like to “shut off” when they go away for conferences but my opinion is that this isn’t a vacation, it’s work. I try to check my email regularly and urge my colleagues and clients to text my cell if I’m needed. I’d much rather take care of an issue with a quick five-minute phone call than get back and discover a big problem could have be averted.
- Ask questions. Write them down so you don’t forget as the Q&A portion is usually at the end of each session. Also, stand up and say your name and your company name when/if it’s your turn on the micrphone. Not only is it good promotion, but the rest of us want to know if you have a background that could change the way we perceive your insights.
- Get a seat. Some conferences are overbooked and certainly some sessions can fill up quickly. If you get there too late, you may find that you’ll have to stand in the back of the room or sit against the wall and have people tripping over your legs as they walk by. If there’s a session you really want to attend, it might be best to leave the previous one a few minutes early so that you can get a good seat.
- Bring lots of business cards. Every conference, I always hear someone say that they’re out of cards. To me, that’s a sin and you should be whipped with a wet noodle for eternity. Bring a whole box of cards if need be. Don’t lose a business opportunity because of such a simple mistake.
- Know that anyone could be listening. A little tip from a guy who’s put his foot in his mouth on more than one occasion. You never know who you could be over hearing your conversations. I’m going to leave it at that.
- Find out where the parties are. Other than the conference sponsored events, there are usually other fun things going on such as vendor parties. Ask around. Someone will clue you in eventually. Yes, you’re there for business but search marketers can be fun folks. Go hang out!
- At least ask other pros about resources. Many of the people you meet will actually be competitors of yours and may not want to share some of the intimate details and tactics of their client campaigns. However, most search marketers will share what resources they use such as technology solutions, valuable blogs, etc. Feel free to ask very direct questions as you may strike gold.
- Work the exhibitor hall. I try to hit each booth and really get a good understanding of each vendor and what they offer. Not only is this a good way to network, but you may find some gems hidden in the rough. Even if you think you know all about Vendor A, check in with them to see if they have anything new to share.
- Mix it up. Don’t sit with the same folks during the sessions, at the dinners, etc. Put yourself out of your comfort zone and sit down with complete strangers. By the time you’re done, you’ll have five new friends.
- Always be aware of where the outlets are. Either inside the session rooms or on the conference floor, there’s going to certainly be a low ratio of people to power outlets. Find out where they are and make a mental note. You may need to add some juice to your phone or laptop at some point. (Tip: find pack a small powerstrip and you’ll have instant conference friends.)
- Get your hands on the presentations. After the event, most conferences provide the opportunity to access some or all of the content that was presented during the sessions. If for some reasons one of the presentations you really want isn’t available, try contacting the moderator directly to see if they’ll send it to you. They usually will.
- Take notes to share with your company. Unless you’re a solo operator, you have a company back home who is fitting the bill for this trip. Increase the value of this expense by bringing back a ton of good tips and tricks which you can share with your co-workers. At my agency, we usually write up a recap of the conferences we attend and send those out when we return. You may even want to setup a short company meeting where you go through what you’ve learned. Spreading this knowledge out is almost like your entire team had attended the conference–that’s value.
- Follow up. All of those connections and networking events were worthless if you don’t follow up. I usually write details of the people I meet on the back of their business cards. That way, a week later when I’m back in the office, I remember which ones I need to call back or were waiting on something for me to send.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.