I’m attending the IFBC (International Food Blogging Conference) next weekend in Sacramento, and am so excited about it. Over the years, I’ve attended a bazillion conferences, and haven’t always made the most of my time there. Frankly, I’m not super-comfortable with rushing into a crowd of strangers and immediately starting up scintillating conversation, and am in awe of people who can do that. I finally realized I needed a plan. Below are some of the things I try to do in advance of conferences these days, and a few things I do during and after the meetings are finished, so I can have a memorable and worthwhile experience.
How to Get the Most From Attending a Conference
1. What are your conference goals?
- You’re investing both time and money, so know what you want to get out of the conference in advance. What top 3 things do you want to accomplish? It could be reconnecting with existing sponsor relationships or initiating 5 new ones. Goals can be around what you want to learn – deciphering Snap Chat and learning how to do video are hot topics right now.
2. Connect with potential and existing sponsors.
- Review the registration list to see which sponsors will be attending, and identify brands that have a great fit for your blog. Start with brands who are official sponsors for the conference. They’ve invested in a blogger conference because they’re interested in meeting you.
- Visit their websites to see if they have recipes contributed by bloggers, or have blogger programs.
- Familiarize yourself with their mission, their branding, and types of recipes they publish. Think about how you can contribute to their goals.
- Reach out to them before the conference to introduce yourself and your blog with an email. Ideally make plans to meet at the conference. Are any of them presenting? If so, let them know you’re looking forward to attending their session, and that they’re a priority for you.
- Take plenty of business cards with you to the conference – and make sure your information on them is correct.
- Before showing up at the conference, nail down your blog elevator speech, and write down questions you want to ask specific sponsors, so you’re not reaching for something clever to say at the last minute, and risk coming up with something lame and utterly forgettable. Have they initiated a new brand awareness campaign you can ask about? Do they have new products? (Bonus points if you’re using them!)
3. Connect with other bloggers.
- Go back to the registered attendee list. Are there other bloggers you want to meet there? They can be bloggers you already know, or ones that you’d like to meet who are leaders in your blog niche. Since I blog about vegetarian dishes, I’m always interested in meeting other vegetarian and healthy food bloggers. Reach out to them in advance to make plans to get together for coffee or a drink. If any of them are presenting, and you’re planning on attending their session, let them know you’re looking forward to it. No matter how experienced a presenter is, they always have a little niggling fear that no one will come to their breakout.
4. Don’t forget about exhibitors!
- They’ve invested to have the opportunity to meet bloggers, and some of them are undoubtedly a good fit for you. Go find them and talk to them to find mutual interests.
5. Be selective in the sessions you attend.
- In choosing which sessions to attend, they should either be able to take your blog to the next level (and you should know what that means to you), or provide you an opportunity to connect with someone(s) you want to meet.
- If one of the speakers is someone you want to connect with, hang around afterwards to ask a question and/or get a business card. After the conference, tweet them to thank them for an informative session, and ask any questions you didn’t get answered.
6. Take notes.
- Be prepared to take notes, but remember many sessions are chock-full of information which can be overwhelming. At the end of each session, write down the top 3 take-aways for you, and any follow-up you want to pursue with the presenters. This will focus your attention when you return home.
- Consider using Evernote – you can create a dedicated notebook for your conference notes, and tag each note with multiple labels to organize any way you want — by topic, speaker, or even which day the session took place.
7. Be visible.
- Offer to be a session moderator or a presenter.
- Don’t stick your head in your laptop or smart phone during breaks – this is a great chance to mingle and network. And remember, this is something that can be uncomfortable for everyone. So, have some thoughtful conversation starters ready, like “Which work project are you most excited about right now?” or “Which session are you most excited to attend?”
- If a welcome reception is offered to newcomers, take advantage of it if you’re a newbie. It’s a great opportunity to meet others in a smaller (less intimidating) venue who are wanting to meet new people.
- If you’re more of an introvert, manage your energy wisely. For you, it might be best to skip the chaos of Happy Hour and focus on one-on-one opportunities, or smaller groups, where you can shine.
- Above all, be yourself. If over-the-top excitement with exclamation marks after every gushing sentence isn’t you, don’t do it.
8. Hashtag it.
- Most conferences have a dedicated hashtag. During the event, make sure you’re tagging your tweets and Instagrams properly. Monitor the hashtag throughout the conference to see what people are talking about. At one conference, this is how I connected with someone I only knew online but had wanted to meet for a long time. She saw my tweet by following the conference hashtag, and messaged me.
9. Stay charged.
- In this plugged in world we all cohabit, you’ll likely have at least a smart phone with you, and very possibly your laptop. Make sure you have your chargers with you too. Many conferences have charging stations – know where they are before you’re desperate.
10. Follow up!
- Follow up with any contacts you made at the conference with an email, whether it’s other bloggers, sponsors, or exhibitors. Follow them on twitter, facebook, instagram, and any other social media site where they’re active.
11. RELAX AND HAVE FUN!!!
- This is possibly the most important one of all!!!