Conference Attendance Tips: Prep for Success
By: Kim Lorang
If you are attending a conference this year (and chances are, you are!) we have some conference attendance tips that will help you make the most out of the time you spend there.
The foodservice industry has no shortage of conferences to attend. The NRA Show, NAFEM, MAFSI, and The Pizza Expo are just a few on a very long list of events foodservice professionals can attend to network, learn about new technology, and expand their knowledge. While it may seem like attending a conference is as simple as showing up, the more you prepare beforehand and go in with a game plan, the more meaningful your time will be. Want to know how to ensure you have a successful conference experience before you even pick up your name badge? We’ve got you covered!
When it comes to making the most out of attending a conference, you must understand the importance of doing some prep-work before you arrive.
Regardless of what conference you’re attending, it’s always a great idea to do a little research and create a game plan before you even walk through the entrance.
Think about your end-goal: what do you hope to gain from attending? Perhaps it’s all about networking, so doing some leg-work about who the other attendees, exhibitors, and speakers are will serve you well. Maybe you want to learn about new products and technologies, so checking out the vendor booth layout and schedule of live demos as well as product-specific speakers will help you decide which booths to hit first and when you need to make your way to the speakers you want to check out. It will also give you the opportunity to schedule some one-on-one time with key vendors before their schedules fill up. If you think about what you want to accomplish before you hit the floor, you’ll better prioritize your time so that you focus on your key objectives and don’t get so caught up in hot dog samples and DIY slushy stations that you leave feeling like you accomplished more than gaining a few pounds. If you’ve attended the NRA show you know how easy that could be to do!
If you really want to get the most out of the the time at the conference, the more detailed your pre-conference research is the better. Consider creating a PDF with bios for all of the companies you want to learn more about, listing basic information about the company, as well as information about the key people you’d like to connect with. Create a list of questions and be sure you don’t leave without having them answered. The less time you can spend in-person talking about general information, and the more time you have to formulate impactful questions, the better!
While you’re sitting at your desk creating your conference schedule, set yourself up for success by blocking off your first day back at the office after the conference ends to attend to things that came up while you were gone. Plan to spend the second day back following up with people you met at the conference (we’ll talk more about that in a future post!) and meeting with co-workers to fill them in on things you learned and people you met that would be pertinent to them.
Pro conference attendance tip: If the conference you’re attending has an app, use it!
That app is the key to unlocking networking opportunities and building relationships with the people you most want to meet before you even arrive at the conference venue. Come up with a great intro, and message the people on your list!
Here are some things to think about when composing your initial message:
- Who you are and what you do: Keep this short and sweet. Include your company name and what they do, and what specifically you do at the company. A few sentences is all you need! (click here to get some tips for putting together a killer elevator pitch, which will come in handy once you get to the conference, too!)
- Why you think they’d be a great contact: What about their products or services intrigues you? How might you be able to work together to form a mutually beneficial working relationship?
- What you want from them: Don’t beat around the bush here. If you want to schedule a coffee break/lunch/dinner during your time at the conference to take the conversation further, tell them that right off the bat! Don’t be shy, and don’t leave them wondering what it is that you’re expecting from them.
Tip: If the conference you’re attending doesn’t offer an app, this can be done via email as well.
In addition to creating connections with other conference attendees that would most benefit you for business related reasons, a great conference attendance tip from a seasoned traveler on our team suggests reaching out to three people who don’t immediately seem to have a direct correlation to your company and/or position.
Perhaps it’s someone in your field that does something similar to you, or someone that looks really interesting that offers a product or service that doesn’t seem connected to your company. You never know what hidden opportunities to collaborate there might be! Also, there’s something to be said for getting to know a person simply because they’re another human. It’s always nice to have friends in your industry!
Along those same lines, don’t be afraid to connect on a personal level. This will deepen your connection and pave the way for a successful, genuine working relationship.
When we asked our team for their best conference attendance tips, it was suggested to come up with an ice breaker question, something you can keep on standby if you need to start a conversation, or fill a lull in a conversation. It doesn’t need to be anything complicated, things as simple as “Where are you from?” or “What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned so far?”.
Equally as important as making a game plan for your time at the conference, is making sure your travel arrangements are solid.
Put together a file (this can be electronic or hard copies depending on your preference) that includes your conference registration confirmation, hotel booking information, and any other transportation arrangements that have been pre-booked. Download all travel related apps to your phone (your airline app, Uber, Lyft, etc.). Call the hotel to find out if there are any transportation arrangements being offered, should the conference not be at your hotel. Include a copy of your conference game plan so you have your schedule handy. Hate traveling alone? Talk with co-workers that are attending to see if anyone’s arrangements align with yours. Sometimes knowing someone else will be with you can ease a lot of travel related stress!
Be sure you can answer the following questions prior to leaving for the conference:
- If you’re flying- what time do you need to be at the airport. It doesn’t hurt to be a little earlier than you think you need to be to give yourself some wiggle room!
- What time is check-in at your hotel? If your flight arrives early, call ahead and request early check-in. If early check in is not an option, come up with a few nearby places you could go to kill some time.
- How will you be getting to and from the conference venue?
- How are you expected to pay for travel related costs that come up such as transportation and meals? Is there a company credit card you can use? Do you need to pay for your expenses and then be reimbursed? Before you leave, be sure you know the company policy and procedures are for travel related expenses. What kinds of expenses can be charged to the company or submitted for reimbursement?
- Are meals and/or snacks be provided during the conference?
- If you’ve made plans to have meals with other attendees, have reservations been made? Will you be meeting at the restaurant? Will you meet before hand and go together?
- If an on-the-fly opportunity comes for lunch or dinner plans, are there any local restaurants you’d like to try? It can be handy to have a few places in mind that you’ve checked reviews on, so you have some suggestions to give.
- What time is check-out at your hotel?
Can you see how taking some time to prepare beforehand, using these conference attendance tips can really ensure success at a conference? While this may seem like a lot to do, it really won’t take you much extra time if you break it into a few chunks!
Of course, planning for success before a conference is only one piece of the puzzle. You still have to put strategic work in while there, and when you get back home!
Want to ensure you have the chance to use these conference attendance tips this year? Click here to check out foodservice conferences happening in 2020!
Stay tuned for future KitchenBiz posts that will have even more conference attendance tips that will help you make the most out of your time at a conference, and set you up for success when it’s over!