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Five Ways to Make a Conference Work for Your Small Business

Five Ways to Make a Conference Work for Your Small Business

Named one of Marketing Magazine’s “Top 30 Under 30”, Erin Bury is a marketer, former technology journalist, and startup enthusiast. A monthly columnist for the Financial Post and a tech commentator on CTV News, Erin shares the ins-and-outs of entrepreneurship, marketing to millennials, creating a killer personal brand, and how to harness the latest digital trends, from chatbots to VR. If that’s not all, her other claim to fame is she’s been re-tweeted by Oprah – twice. In this article for the Financial Post, Erin writes about how entrepreneurs can take advantage of all that a conference has to offer:

Attending conferences and events are a key part of any entrepreneur’s growth and development, and they can be key to building relationships, keeping informed on industry trends and finding leads for your business. On the flip side, conferences can be expensive, time-consuming, and a miss in terms of the content. Over a decade of organizing, attending, and speaking at conferences around the world has taught me these things that can help ensure you always get value out of attending.

Know why you’re attending, and what would make it a success

When you buy a ticket to a conference, define what would make the ticket price worth it for you. Maybe it’s just forming relationships and meeting people, maybe it’s learning from experts and having takeaways to apply to your business, or maybe it’s sourcing leads you can follow up on when the event is over. Outlining your goal will help you focus on what will drive that outcome — for example, if you just want to learn, you should be in sessions all day taking notes, whereas if your goal is relationships, you’re better off hanging out in the hallway between sessions networking and chatting with people.

Make a plan for who you want to connect with

Most big conferences release apps in advance to help you navigate the agenda and to provide logistical details, and they often provide a full list of attendees. If the event doesn’t have an app, it will at least have a website with a list of speakers, and a hashtag so you can research who is talking about attending. Spend time in the days leading up to it reviewing the attendees and speakers, following them on social channels if relevant, and making notes on who you want to connect with. You can also set up meetings in advance — that’s something I used to do often at South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, since it was such a large conference. Having meetings set up in advance meant I knew I was connecting with key people outside of the random connections you’ll make as you move through the event.

Create connections that go beyond the event

Last week I attended the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Summit in San Francisco, the seventh time I’ve attended. The event brings together female entrepreneurs from 20 countries, and while all who attend have interesting businesses, this year I met four women who also own communications agencies. They innately understand the challenges I face in my business, and within an hour we had set up a WhatsApp group to stay connected, and we’re planning a meetup in New York City this fall. Most people attend a conference and exchange business cards, connect on social media and LinkedIn, and maybe even exchange a few emails post-event. But the key to getting value out of conference relationships is to make sure they extend well beyond the life of the event — host drinks for attendees six months after the event, create a Twitter list of attendees so you can all stay connected online, or create a private Facebook group where attendees can share business stories on an ongoing basis.

Leverage media attention at the event

Most conferences offer media passes, so events can be a great way to connect with journalists, and even get featured in the event’s coverage. When I handled communications for a Toronto startup, we exhibited at events like TechCrunch Disrupt, and most large tech media outlets were on-site interviewing startups — just being at that event landed us an interview on CNN. I also spent years as a tech journalist, and I often attended events to cover them or to find story ideas. Try to get a sense of which media outlets will be on site, and try to meet them and share your story — you’re much more memorable if you’ve had a face-to-face interaction with them, and even if they don’t feature you in their event recap, they’ll be more likely to open your next email pitch.

Build toward having the most impact

I realized early on that the most impact I could have at an event would be as a speaker, not an attendee. Speaking helps position you as a thought leader, and it ensures that everyone who attends knows your name (and your company’s name) when they leave. Speaking isn’t the only way to get exposure though — the key is to go from an event attendee to an organizer, sponsor, speaker or partner so you leave a larger impression on attendees. At the very least, find other ways to make an impact on site other than just attending — share social posts with the event hashtag, ask questions at sessions (typically you’re asked to say your name and business before your question), or participate in on-site filming for post-event recap videos.

Erin Bury/Financial Post/August, 2017