How to Make the Most Out of Attending a Conference

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View Part 1 of the series: How to Prepare for Attending Your First Blogger Conference

So now that you’ve got your business cards, notebook, and ticket, the time has come to talk design conference strategy: how are you going to create a positive ROI on this event? 

Attending small business conferences can cost bucoo bucks, especially for entrepreneurs. But in my opinion, it’s so worth it to make the effort to attend if you can. However, before we dive into the nitty-gritty, I want to make sure you clearly understand all the costs associated.

As this is a business trip, remember that any cost associated with the trip should be included in your total expenses. Some costs to consider:

  • Airline
  • Hotel
  • Conference Ticket
  • Checked bag fees
  • Internet fees
  • Per Diem
  • Mileage/Taxis
  • Additional meals or business meetings
  • Misc expenses that pop up which are related to the event (consult your accountant about details for this)

How to Create a Positive ROI From a Design Conference

1. Decide on a learning goal before you go

If you want to go to this conference because it’s known as one of the biggest attractors of Instagram influencers (and becoming an Influencer is your end goal), then decide that’s what your focus will be. The same goes for sponsors, networking opportunities, and anything else that happens during your time at the event. Decide on a lens that you’ll use to look at the entire conference so that you’ll be able to maintain a focus (believe me, it can get way overwhelming especially when you make friends who want to go to other things) and decide if the conference was worth it for you.

2. Study the schedule

Okay, this is a “do as I say, not as I do” bullet point, because I am terrible at this! What I recommend is looking at the schedule of events before you attend, circling must-not-miss classes, and sticking to that. I will usually go to a conference with a few classes in mind that I want to attend. But then things get in the way (transportation, laziness, FOMO because my friends think there’s another class that’s better) so I really need to be better at taking my own advice on this.

3. Study the sponsors

This is key, especially if the sponsors will be setting up shop at the event. Sponsors are the gravy that can turn a whole event from crap to amazing. If there are sponsors who will be attending the event that you think will be of benefit to you and your business, come up with a strategy for approaching them. It might be nice to fangirl it at their booth and talk about their amazing products, but if you want to establish a relationship with them, be it sponsored posts or a vendor partnership, then you’re going to want to take the short face-to-face time you have with them seriously.

Set up a plan to discuss a specific initiative to get them excited and find out how to work out concrete next steps. What I usually do when we’re discussing the next steps is to tell them I’m going to email them with a specific, usually funny(ish) subject line. For example, I wanted to paint my bedroom black (I know, I’m not a baby goth…believe me, if I can pull it off it will actually look fantastic) so I spoke to a few different paint sponsors at events. The ones who I felt would be a better partnership I told I would email them with the subject “Goth House.” It’s a little corny, but it’s memorable and establishes an opportunity for them to remember you in the middle of the onslaught of hundreds of other emails you’re competing against. 

4. Pay attention to the afterparties/night time events

This is another “do as I say…” situation because I usually avoid these events and that’s at a significant opportunity cost to myself (introverts gotta introvert). If there are afterparties or late night events that you feel would be beneficial to attend, make all the effort to do so as these can be really clutch for developing longterm business friendships. Don’t feel intimidated to go if you’re by yourself as I promise you, you won’t be the only one! Strike up conversations, have fun dancing or crafting. Utilize the time to ask other entrepreneurs questions, find mastermind partners or accountabilibuddies to help keep moving your business forward.

5. Make it a point to network

Same as the afterparties, but if you’re like me and just get exhausted by the end of the conference day, utilize the time at the conference to network. Chat people up in the seats around you before a class, or if you bump into someone from a previous class. Be open and curious at lunch. Don’t be afraid to pop into an empty seat at a table of chatty business owners. Chances are, they’re all doing the roundtable get-to-know-you questions and aren’t a clique or group of friends. 

6. Keep an eye open for future opportunities

If you’re absolutely digging the conference and know you’ll want to attend again, keep an eye out for opportunities. The closing party will usually mention when and where the next conference will be. But see if you can find out about speaking opportunities, volunteering (they’ll usually cover your ticket fee if you offer to help out for a little bit of time), or other ways to become a part of the event next year.

7. Ask all the questions

Whenever, wherever you have a question ask it. So many people I’ve met felt intimidated or embarrassed to ask questions (not just at blogger conferences, but in their day to day lives, too) and that just doesn’t serve anyone. Remember that you are paying a premium to be at this event. If you want to capitalize and get everything you can out of this opportunity, then make sure you clearly understand what you’re being taught.

Also, as a speaker, I love getting questions! I am rarely offended by the question (I have yet to be offended, but you know…feel I should say “rarely” instead of “never” because who knows) and questions from the attendees help me understand your needs (which, selfishly, helps me figure out pain points and where I might be able to serve by building courses or e-books) and can let me know if I’ve made an incorrect assumption that everyone knows what I’m talking about. So please, serve everyone by asking questions and not feeling intimidated to do so.

So there you have it! If you want to know how I attend all of these events on the cheap, I wrote up a series on The Beige House about how I utilize credit cards to head to these events and be fancy about it. But my main point to all of this is: blogger and design conferences are major investments but can produce amazing results and are totally worth the cost, as long as you plan ahead and know how you’re going to rock it. See you there!

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