The Ultimate Conference Preparation Checklist
Whether you are a conference newbie or have been around the block, it can never hurt to brush up on ways to make the most of your conference experience. Preparation is the key to a successful conference, since once you land your time will be filled with exhibit halls, speakers and cocktail parties with hardly a free moment to breath, let alone strategize.
The list below is designed to help you prepare before and follow up after a conference to make sure your hard work pays off.
COUNTDOWN: ONE MONTH TO GO
1. Set a goal
Why are you going to this conference in the first place? What do you hope to get out of it? Conference goals range from professional development to business development to job searching. Having a clear goal in mind beforehand helps you both adequately prepare and track your progress.
2. Order business cards
Picture this: You meet a promising lead at the coffee station. The two of you bond over your mutual hate of the serial comma. She has a potential project coming up that you would be perfect for. She asks for your card. You dig into your pocket to retrieve one—but suddenly realize you are out.
Being caught without a business card at a networking event is embarrassing. Do an inventory before the conference so you have time to print new ones if you are running low. We recommend bringing a box of about 250 cards to a conference. After all, you can never have too many, only too few.
And if you do happen to forget your business cards, all is not lost. You can always ask for their card and then be sure to add them on LinkedIn right away. You can also send a follow-up email to be sure the person has your contact information.
3. Check the attendee list
Review the attendee list (if available) for ideas about who you may want to meet up with. This could include current clients, prospects, partners or even people you admire whom you’d like to meet. If you already have a connection to the person, plan to send them a note to see if your schedules overlap or if they are attending any of the same sessions you are. If you don’t have a relationship with them, look them up on LinkedIn so you know what they look like and have some talking points if you should happen to run into them. Remember, conferences are for networking, so don’t be afraid to walk up and introduce yourself to somebody you’d like to meet. Chances are they are expecting it.
4. Book dinner reservations & send invitations
Conferences draw big crowds to a city, so if you are planning to host, be sure to book your reservations with plenty of time in advance. If you have a ballpark idea of how many attendees you will have go ahead and reserve space at your selected restaurant. You’ll then want to send invites as quickly as possible since there are likely other dinners that you may be competing with. Sending invitations and getting early commitments is one of the best ways to ensure attendance. But don’t panic if you aren’t getting the response you hoped for. A bit of spontaneity is called for at conferences. You’ll meet people left and right and scooping up a group to add to your dinner party is a great plan B.
5. Create content
One of the best ways to generate buzz for your company—or yourself—before a conference is to create original content coinciding with the conference theme. Get inspired by leafing through the conference packet and reviewing the session descriptions. If you find one you can offer expertise on, consider writing a blog post or article. Sometimes conference websites or blogs will even republish your content to a broader audience.
COUNTDOWN: ONE WEEK TO GO
1. Set your schedule
Taking time to plan your days can help ease the chaos and make the most of your experience. Review the conference booklet and take note of any sessions you feel strongly about attending. Breakfasts, lunches and breaks tend to be the best networking opportunities, so if that is one of your conference goals be sure to note what time those take place so you don’t miss out. Also take a look at any late night receptions, parties or events you’d like to attend. Finally, be sure to schedule some quiet time into your days. This opens you up to opportunities you may not have considered and leaves some time to clear your email so your first day back in the office isn’t quite as much of a nightmare. It is also important to remember, as mentioned above, that conferences beg some spontaneity. If an opportunity presents itself, jump. Don’t be married to your schedule.
2. Consider your wardrobe
There is nothing worse than throwing your outfits into your suitcase the night before your flight and realizing you need a brown belt and only have black. Take some time to think through your wardrobe ahead of time so you have time to pick up anything you need. If you need to carry around your laptop, make sure you have a large enough bag that is presentable. There is also usually a lot of walking involved, so make sure your shoes are walkable. Remember, conferences are about making an impression, so make it a positive one.
3. Devise a social strategy
Live-tweeting at an event is a great way to increase engagement. But it can be frustrating when you can’t find a presenter’s handle or don’t have the conference hashtag handy. One way to prepare is to create a list on your phone ahead of time. You can look up and add presenters’ handles, the conference hashtag and any other relevant hashtags that you may want to snag. Also be sure to set up any social accounts on your phone to make sharing easier. Applications like Buffer and Hootsuite make it easy to push content to multiple accounts at once and are mobile-friendly. Don’t forget to take a look at your own social accounts and make sure they are up to date. People are going to be scoping you out, so make sure your online presence is clean.
4. Practice your elevator pitch
Think back to your goal and what you want to accomplish at the conference. You should craft your elevator pitch to match. It can seem unnatural to strike up conversations with strangers, but if you’ve thought through your approach, breaking the ice is much easier. Remember to keep your pitch short and to the point, and make sure it fully communicates your goals.
COUNTDOWN: ONE DAY TO GO
1. Pack your business cards
You went through the trouble of pritning business cards, so don’t leave them behind!
2. Do a technology check
Conferences have a way of draining batteries. Whether you are live-tweeting on your phone, looking up the conference schedule on your tablet or sending a quick email on your laptop, those batteries go fast. It can be difficult to steal a moment to juice up in your room, so come prepared with external batteries and chargers.
3. Get lots of sleep
Never underestimate a good night’s rest.
1. Social media
Take time on the flight back home (assuming you have wifi and it is working) to add all your new contacts on social media. Remember when inviting folks to connect, especially on LinkedIn, it is always best to include a personal note about how you met. Connecting on social media is one of the easiest ways to stay in touch. Take advantage of those automatic reminders about birthdays and job promotions by sending a note.
2. Follow up with speakers
If there were any presentations that particularly resonated with you, don't hesitate to reach out to the speaker. These experts are often giving talks to engage with others and typically provide contact information, so feedback or words of thanks are appreciated. The bottom line is not to feel intimidated. Sending a thank you note, email or message through social media are all appropriate.
3. Send your company a list of what you learned
If your company sponsored your attendance, be sure to create a quick list of key takeaways. It doesn't have to be long and encumbered, but a short punch list is helpful to prove how valuable the experience was for you. Consider sharing what you learned from presentations, connections you made, and insights you gained. Tying these back to your role and company's goals are key.
4. Assess your goal
Finally, we come full circle by looking back to the original goal. Consider ways to measure success. For example, how many new connections in your industry did you make, how many business cards did you walk away with, and how many new topics did you gain expertise on? If your conference experience had a business development angle to it, can you tie any leads—or better yet revenue—directly to your attendance? Find as many metrics and as much evidence as you can to help inform your future conference experiences.