follow me might have noticed that I attended the PayPal X Innovate event last week. I ran into an associate at one point, and he was very surprised to see me.
"Aren't you - like - a writer?" he asked me.
"Yes," I said.
"But the conference is for developers."
"Yes, I know. But being that I'm a content person, I like to know about a lot of different areas so I can write about them. Plus, the theme is "Innovate," and I feel like every time I write something, I am innovating."
He scratched his head a moment, then nodded, like he got it. And that is an illustration of one of my 10 Key Action Steps for Attending Events, which really occurs before you even show up:
1. Attend an Event You Wouldn't Normally Go To:
It's great to network with people you know who are in your field, but it's just as important to meet other folks too. Those who work outside your field can provide you with a unique perspective you might not otherwise have, and can also provide for great new ideas for blog posts, books, videos, and other content. In my case, while I have certain content areas I focus on, such as health and fitness, sustainability, and lifestyles, I also promote the tool kit that I offer, which crosses all boundaries: e-newsletters, blogs, and website copywriting, for example, are just some of the services I offer, and they can transcend any specific topic.
2. Have a Plan and Be Organized:
Before a conference, I always make sure to review the conference materials being sent out via e-mail, so I can familiarize myself with the program, speakers, and any special events I might want to attend. I always feel better when I've organized my conference bag for the day, and make sure I have handy: pen and paper, laptop as needed, business cards, camera and video equipment, water, and healthy snacks. I pay particular attention to any last minute conference information e-mailed to me, as I know from working behind the scenes at conferences, speaker information and logistics can change.
3. Spend Quality Time at the Exhibits/Expos:
A lot of conference attendees do a quick tour of the expos, and then it's on to another event or session. I like to spend a little longer, and to choose a time when the exhibits are less crowded. I find that the exhibitors are more likely to spend time with you, giving you more thorough demos of their products and services. In my case at PayPal Innovate, I particularly enjoyed a demo by Cent2Cent, a new program still in Beta, that provides tools for bloggers to charge for their content. Cool! The Exhibits are also great places to pick up an extra t- shirt or souvenir, that you can keep is a momento of the event, or use as a giveaway for your followers.
4. Take Great Notes:
I like to take a dedicated notebook with me to conferences, where I can keep detailed notes on the educational sessions I attend, any action items I need to take when I get home, and any ideas in general I may have for content, such as blog posts, white papers, etc. I still have notes from the last several years that I look over, and they are invaluable. In this example, I used my impressions from Tim O'Reilly's Keynote as the feature story for my October issue of The Butterfly, my monthly e-news.
5. Meet New People and Don't Obsessively Give Out Your Business Card
I have always found it better when a business card exchange comes out of a great chat or connection with someone. If you simply throw your card in front of people, they are going to ignore or even worse, throw it out when they get home. When I have someone's card that I really enjoy talking to, I make a note on the back of the card as to what we discussed, and a few bullet points on possible future collaboration.
6. Take Photos and Video, Focusing on the Highlights
I love to take event photos, and then create a slideshow later on that I can use on Flickr, Facebook, and Tweetpic. By focusing on the highlights, I can provide key information for my readers so they can easily get the essence of the program. Also, while events typically produce their own media and recordings, I like putting my own spin on things, plus I don't have to wait until the end of the conference to post the links. Here's a look at two quick video I posted on Facebook and my YouTube channel, CarrieTV, where I capture Tim O'Reilly making some great points during his Keynote. The first excerpt captures his discussion of innovation, and how it comes from "fun," not the desire to be an entrepreneur for its own sake. The second discusses the Maker Fair, a science fair for innovators that has gained national recognition.
7. Enjoy Social Events:
Every conference builds in some relaxed networking time between events, whether it's a reception, an Opening or Closing Party, or a refreshment break. These are great opportunities to network and connect with others, and you can make more direct connections with people because there is no other programming going on and therefore fewer distractions. Also, I have always found (I'm sure I'm not the only one), that food is a great equalizer. Have you ever started or overheard a great conversation while waiting on the nachos line?
8. Take Note of Event Sponsors:
I always make it a point to thank event sponsors when I see them, and to include them in my story highlights if I am writing a formal story, and maybe even take a photo or do a quick video interview. As sponsors, they are expecting to be in the limelight more then others, and they usually appreciate the chance to talk about their organization and the partnership they have with the group running the event.
9. Post Conference Wrap-Ups:
It's important to read the post-conference highlight the organization promotes, as they typically include all the key information you will want to know, whether you are writing a story or not, such as number of attendees, key events, etc. Also take a look at what other press outlets have written and how they a have covered the event. In this case, I liked the TechCrunch write up and their summary of the micropayment announcements PayPal made during the morning Keynote. Their wrap-up reminded me that I want to take another look at a video publishing platform called Ooyala, which is launching a new product called Ooyala Paywall. powered by PayPal, allowing publishers to implement a payment system to allow visitors view their videos.
10. Follow-Up Within A Week:
It's important to follow-up with any important contacts you have made after every event, and preferably within a week's time. I have found that approaching contacts earlier then that is usually too soon, as they are still travelling or recuperating from their event. Waiting too long after the event means that you run the risk that they will not remember you, or that you are too casual. If you are calling, leave a detailed voicemail if the individual is not available, and include the details of when and how you met and what you discussed. If you are sending e-mail, be concise, and include bullet points on what you discussed and your reason for contacting them. Under no circumstances should you add business contacts to your e-newsletter list, unless they themselves have opted in, or asked you to add them. I participated in an extended discussion on this on LinkedIn recently that lasted several months, and I was suprised how many people felt it was OK to add people, simply because they had met them.
Do you have any great tips for attending and networking at events? Let me know what I've left out in the Comments....and happy networking!