It happens to everyone. You wake up the morning before you leave for the conference in a panic, frantically searching for the closest 24-hour dry cleaners and double-checking travel plans. With everything going on in your life–work, friends, relationships–you feel lucky that you’ll make it to the conference on time, let alone looking like a decent human being. But of course you found time to update all your social media channels about where you’re traveling.
Professional development is a hefty investment companies pony up every year, but there’s typically very little discussion around expectations. All too often, employees are given a plane ticket and a conference badge, and sent off to Orlando, Cincinnati, or (if you’re lucky) Las Vegas, without any support on how to fully harness the experience for the good of the company. The responsibility lands on your shoulders to take the bull by the horns and figure out where you need to go, who you need to meet, and what you need to learn.
Waiting until the last moment to prepare for a conference (or not preparing at all) is a major missed opportunity, for your employer and for you. Use the guide below to maximize your conference experience through using social media—and become an industry mover & shaker in the process.
Articulate your goals.
What is it exactly that you’re there to achieve? Is your objective to network? Find potential clients? Look for business partnerships on behalf of your company? Brush up on the most recent industry trends? At least one month before the conference, write down your top three objectives and make a plan for how you can achieve them.
Do your homework.
Do NOT wait until the flight is over to start researching which speakers will be in attendance and which presentations you plan to participate in. Examine the conference agenda 2-3 weeks before the event and reach out to the speakers directly on Twitter. Sample Tweet: “@Presenter I’m really looking forward to your session at #XYZConf14. Would love to meet up with you to discuss my ideas on XYZ! You game?”
Jump on event hashtag, ASAP.
Most conferences have an event hashtag to use, and people often use them weeks or months in advance. For bigger events, they’re used year round! Start following the hashtag and use it when tweeting articles or news relevant to that audience. Learn who the influencers are, follow them, and engage with them. If you tweet with them consistently in the days and weeks leading up to the conference, you’ve won yourself a natural icebreaker when approaching them during the event.
Many large-scale conferences have their own LinkedIn groups. Find out if yours does, and if so, use it! Join the group and introduce yourself. Tell them (briefly) about yourself and your goals for the conference, and invite anyone in the group to eat lunch with you the first day. Define the goal: to discuss a particular industry trend, kick around some ideas, and learn what’s worked for them and what hasn’t. Boom. Your first meeting has been scheduled.
Create curated Twitter lists.
A surefire way to become everyone’s hero. Research the speakers and organizers, and add them to your list if they’re on Twitter. Create a Twitter list of people who use the hashtag. Update and share both every other day using the hashtag. In doing so, you’ve automatically boosted your visibility and positioned yourself as an influencer.
Make a YouTube video.
Create a short video introducing yourself, your company, and what you hope to achieve at the event. Encourage the audience to follow you on Twitter, and to approach you in person. Invite them to join you at lunch or at the cocktail networking reception for a brainstorming session. People will recognize you and gravitate to you. No more standing in the corner, shuffling your feet and feeling awkward as you stare at your smartphone!
Write a killer recap blog.
If (tsk, tsk) you didn’t have a chance to do anything listed above, it’s not too late to redeem yourself! Create an interactive recap of the conference highlights, post it to your blog and share it using the conference hashtag. You’ll boost traffic to your site, get visibility, and look like a rockstar when you share it with your boss.
Don’t stuff those business cards in your pocket and forget them, only to find them later, balled up in a pulp at the bottom of the washing machine. Download an app that turns business cards into contacts (CardMunch is a good one), and maximize your networking digitally in real time by doing so. Wait 2-3 business days after the event has concluded, and circle back to the people you’ve met. Tell them you’re glad to have met them, and propose coffee (either in person or on Skype) to stay in touch and explore mutually beneficial opportunities.
What are your top tips for maximizing your conference experience? Include them in the comments below!