What Is The Business Return Of Attending A Conference?

Are you optimizing your conference experience?

TopRank receives a lot of value from having me speak at conferences but you don’t have to be a speaker to realize a positive return from events. Small, large online or offline, there are numerous ways to optimize and maximize your return on conference involvment both in the short and long term.

If your company is considering whether to send you to events because of uncertain return or benefits, show them the following list.

In fact, if I were running a conference, I’d make sure these tips are shared with attendees, sponsors and speakers alike.

The first step in getting more value out of event attendance is to understand the “why”. What benefit that brings value to the business can you get from attending conferences, workshops, webinars and educational meet/tweetups? I like to say that I can “make money” at any conference. The reason why is that I am specifically aware of multiple ways to create value with events – beyond simply prospecting for new business. Here are 5 key benefits you can create from event participation and goals you can set for each:

1. Grow Your Network

There is no substitute for a quality network. It takes time to grow a personal network and if you’re advocating for your company, then community development is also ongoing. Attending events online and off are essential for productive networking that can result in a variety of valuable outcomes including:

  • Recruiting
  • Collecting competitive intelligence
  • Vendor and consultant sourcing
  • Partner sourcing
  • Prospecting for new customers.

When you attend events, set goals for the kinds of contacts you want to make. Go so far as to make a list of people you want to meet if they’re particularly important to your goals. Initiate new connections with qualified prospects, marketing partners, vendors to outsource to and job candidates. At the same time, reinforce existing connections with contacts in your social networking pipeline. Each day, tally them up and plan how you will follow up. Follow on Twitter, connected on LinkedIn. Share useful tips, links and info that are relevant to your interactions with them. Give to get, but have a purpose and a goal for the connection.

Make sure you have goals and a purpose to your online and event networking. If you leave it to chance, you’re leaving a LOT of value on the table – for your competition.

2. Get Smarter. Repeat.

There are numerous benefits to attending conference sessions. The obvious is to hear smart speakers give presentations on important topics with useful tips. Sometimes speakers deliver on that promise and sometimes they don’t.

Don’t let bad conference content get in the way of getting smarter.

Pay attention to how the speaker gives their presentation and observe how the audience responds. You might think the information isn’t useful to you, but if the attendees are leaning forward, writing notes and holding up their phones and ipads to take pictures of the presentation slides, then the speaker is connecting.

You can benefit from understanding how the information is presented as much as from the actual tips. The format, sequence, design and presentation of information that connects is a model you can leverage for your own purposes: whether it’s speaking at a conference or event yourself or communicating and persuading people internally.

Planning your conference session attendance is essential. Think of how many sessions will you attend and how will you capture the information presented. Will you take notes on an iPad, laptop or (gasp) on paper? Will you take photos or video (where allowed)? Do you know where to get a copy of the speakers’ presentations? Introduce yourself to speakers and ask them a key question on video so you can review later and share with your team.

When meeting new people, discuss the sessions with them. Compare notes – it’s a great way to network and to get other opinions. Before the conference, make a grid or a plan for which specific sessions you’ll be attending. Often times, there is not much time between sessions and the difference between getting a good seat and standing room only can be a matter of minutes and you might miss out on the session entirely because rooms can fill up.

3. Curate and Create Content

Content Marketing is hotter than ever but sourcing content is probably one of the biggest challenges for companies getting into the content publishing realm. The good news is that events from Twitter chats to webinars to keynote presentations and breakout sessions all provide opportunities to capture, curate and even create content. Some examples include:

  • Liveblogging – Transcribe what the speakers say word for word. Listen for key quotes or pieces of information and make a “list post” around a specific topic. Pre-write an article about the session topic and fill in stats and quotes from the speakers.
  • Interviews – Reach out to speakers in advance and collect tips from their presentations as a way to help boost attendance to their session. Shoot video interviews of speakers or other smarties at the conference. Record podcast interviews with the same people. Capture single tips on video from a large number of people and compile into one video. Go to exhibitor booths and ask them for a 30 second pitch on video and compile them. Survey attendees on what they like best, tips they’ve heard, etc into a compilation video. With video, you might want to get sign-offs. Also, non-speakers may be reluctant.
  • Journal – Keep notes and write a summary of key points from the day and publish like a journal entry. Link to other bloggers that are publishing liveblog posts at the same event.
  • Curate – Use a tool like storify to curate the buzz of the conference. You don’t even need to be at the event to do this if a conference hashtag is used consistently.
  • Track Your Own Buzz – If you are speaking, make sure someone from your team is tracking mentions of you, your company and topic on social streams like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. Monitor any liveblogging of your presentations as well. Give people an incentive to liveblog your sessions too. If anyone liveblogs one of my presentations, I will send them a copy of Optimize (for example). Curate those mentions into a roundup post on your company newsroom.

Think about how you can leverage your conference experience to create new content for your company blog, articles, or process documentation. Set goals for how many content objects (blog posts, articles, videos, tweets, images) you’ll create each day. Organize what you will capture, with who and with what devices. Plan where you’ll publishing this content and when as well.  For curation, compile presentations posted to Slideshare, interviews others have posted to YouTube and liveblog posts covering interesting sessions – then add your own commentary as the icing on the cake.

The content you capture and create can supply a company blog with numerous posts and show clients, staff and prospective clients that you are on top of what’s happening in the industry.

4. Share the Smarts: Knowledge Transfer With Your Team

The explicit purpose of attending conferences is to hear industry experts share advice and insights into topics that your business can benefit from. Collecting actionable tips, statistics and other useful information form conferences to share with your team, clients and other groups in your organization can multiply the value of one person attending an event. If multiple people attend, the value can be even greater.

To make knowledge transfer from conference content work, it’s important to create a process for information capture, synthesis and distribution.

  • Capture: Target specific speakers and sessions. Write questions you want answered and if the presentations do not contain those answers then pursue subject matter expert speakers to ask them directly. Capture information in text, audio, video and image. No one ever comes back from an event thinking they took too many photos. Maybe the wrong photos, but not to many. Also, be aware of conference policies on video and image capture.
  • Synthesis: When you formulate questions, have specific applications for your business in mind. When you get the answers, filter the information in a way that will be practical and useful when it is shared – vs. all theoretical. Discuss the information and tips collected with fellow attendees to filter out what’s most useful.
  • Distribution: Have a plan for how you will present the useful tactics, insights, statistics and case studies with your co-workers, clients and other interested parties.  You could write a report, you could create a presentation to give live or via webinar, you could compile video clips and images to narration. Individual tips could be saved on an internal knowledge base blog according to category. You could have a post-conference brown bag lunch discussion or a more formal presentation. There are many different options, but have them in mind before the conference to increase the likelihood they will actually happen and in an effective way.

Knowing you will be required to present the information you are gaining at a conference with the team back at the office can helps you focus on takeaways and practical interpretations of what’s being presented, instead of what you don’t like or the lacking presentation skills of the presenter.

5. Optimize the Marketing Value of Events

For nearly all events, I like to break things up into pre-event, during and after.  You could actually further distinguish near-after and long-after as well as a recurring component if the event is held at regular intervals, like many are on an annual basis.  Many conference speakers rely on the event to do the marketing. That’s a big fail.

Here are a few tips before, during and after the event to gain more attendees, more media coverage and post-event value:

Before the event:

  • Write headlines, descriptions, tags and make trackable short URLs
  • Pre-write tweets, updates and decide on a hashtag
  • Submit your session to event listing sites, create events on Facebook and LinkedIn
  • Create a contest or buzz around your presentation to inspire others to tell their networks
  • Issue an optimized press release
  • Schedule interviews with media attending the event and/or local media
  • Connect with other speakers in advance
  • Create a teaser for your presentation
  • Announce your event attendance through email and your social channels
  • When you meet people before your presentation, don’t be shy about sharing when you are speaking
  • Create a check-in notice on Foursquare inviting people to attend your session

During the event:

  • Create content the audience can participate with. I like to take photos of the audience and post to our Facebook page so they can tag themselves.
  • Use tweetable, shareable content in your presentation
  • Give something away to motivate desired behaviors like asking questions
  • Always include a report or fulfillment piece in your thank you page
  • Have someone on your team monitoring tweets and buzz during your presentation. Interact as appropriate

After the event:

  • Curate buzz about the presentation into a blog post and/or newsroom post
  • Follow up on questions asked and fulfillment deliverables
  • Connect with new contacts through appropriate social channels
  • Thank the conference for having you
  • If you were on a panel, thank the panelists and moderator
  • Thank any livebloggers that covered your session
  • Use media coverage from the event in your newsroom, corporate email and other communications
  • Follow up!!!!!

This should probably have been turned into an ebook on the topic, so congratulations on making it to the end of the post!  Heck, maybe we will make it into an ebook and add a few forms, checklists and examples.  In the meantime, share this list of tips with those in your organization that hold the purse strings for your event attendance. Try one or two of these tips for your next conference and share what you’ve done to get more value out of event attendance.

As always, if you like these tips, be sure to get your copy of Optimize for a deep dive into an integrated approach to optimizing your online marketing.

Comments

About Lee Odden
Lee Odden is the CEO of TopRank Online Marketing, a provider of innovative Internet marketing consulting for progressive B2B companies ranging from Marketo to PRWeb to McKesson. Odden has been recognized for his expertise with enterprise social media, SEO and content marketing strategies by The Economist, Advertising Age and Mashable. He writes a monthly column called Social Media Smarts for ClickZ and his blog at TopRankBlog.com has an active community with over 46,000 subscribers, 12,000 Facebook Fans and has been rated the #1 Content Marketing blog 3 times by Junta42. He is also the Author of "Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing" published by Wiley.
There are 3 Comments. Add Yours.
  1. Hi Lee, found this a very refreshing read. Will be tweeting your story to all delegates attending Boutique Hotel Summit conference next week!

  2. Lee Odden

    Thanks Piers & Ashley, glad you found it useful.

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