Attending conferences, exhibits and forums is a time consuming process that shouldn't be taken lightly. Conference prep can last up to a whole month. But most attendees and exhibitors fail to plan their time wisely before the event and end up scrambling to put together meetings on the spot, or wandering randomly between stands relying on sheer, blind luck.
We put together a short list of how to structure your conference prep time to boost your productivity above and beyond.
Before you make the final decision to attend a conference, exhibit or forum, first decide what your ultimate goal is there. "To see and be seen" isn't a bad plan, but it could use some improvement. Clear goals lead to a clear plan of action. Always research the speakers, exhibitors and special guests in advance. Focus on whoever is your best fit, be it for networking, meeting new or potential partners and clients, connecting with speakers, etc. Make a list of your goals in terms of significance, from highest to lowest. You should spend at least 3-4 weeks on this step.
Find out if there is an event app or another service to schedule meetings and get updates. Register and fill in all possible information about yourself and your conference goals. Find and get in contact with other attendees/exhibitors, and offer to schedule a meeting with potential clients or partners. Plan your time based on your trip schedule. Study the event map ahead of time to pick the perfect meeting venue so nobody gets lost just trying to get there.
Plan your time so you're never late moving from one venue to another, and always give yourself a buffer in the event of cancellations and rescheduling. Hit the presentations you find most interesting and informative, and schedule meetings around them to make everyone's life easier. Give big important meetings at least 1 full hour, and schedule 30 minutes for new contacts/meet and greets. This will help you balance your time so by lunch you're not already out of the game.
Do your homework and find out which companies will have feet on the ground at the event. If possible, get in contact with them beforehand via email or messenger. Events with an expected audience of 500-1,000 often use a special app to help participants plan their time in advance. These apps are usually available at least a month ahead of time. They are key in helping you schedule meetings and learn more about who's attending.
Arm up for battle
Take what you learned and come up with a list of topics for small talk, and think of what souvenirs to bring for meetings or your stand. Don't forget to research the event's focus and the cultural nuances of the region it's being held in. For example, events in MENA countries have a far greater number of male attendees, so leave the pink silicone bracelets at home. Instead, opt for more reserved tones and more traditional items like pens and notepads.
Theater of war
Tough meetings are best held over lunch. Psychologists believe that food and a calm atmosphere can make any conversation more productive and help smooth rough edges.
Always ask for an invitation confirmation with the venue and time for peace of mind. A week before your trip, you can also always ask if everything is still on and everyone will be there. This is the only way to know your business trip will be worth it and you won't be wasting your time.