Foodservice Conference Tips: Attend a Conference Like a Pro
By: Kim Lorang
Make the most out of the time you spend at your next conference, and ensure you see a return even after you’ve gotten home, with these foodservice conference tips!
So you’ve registered for a conference and have done all your pre-conference leg work (check out these pre foodservice conference tips to learn more about that) and you’re ready to pack your bags and hit the conference venue floor. You might think that all that is left to do is show up, but you would be wrong. The truth is, if you want to attend a conference intentionally and walk away feeling like your time there was well spent, there is so much more that goes into it than just showing up!
Assuming you’ve already set yourself up for success by creating a game plan for the conference, you’re ready to turn those plans into actions. Let’s dive into the foodservice conference tips you can use at the conference, and beyond!
I can’t count how many times I’ve seen people create wonderful plans, only to be completely derailed when it’s time to put them into action. Don’t let this happen to you! While the ability to be flexible is important, it’s also important that you always keep your end goals at the forefront of your mind. Don’t allow your plan to be thwarted by things that won’t bring you closer to your objectives.
So, skipping out on a live demo you’d wanted to see because someone from a company you were hoping to connect with asked you to get coffee with them, good. Skipping out on a live demo you’d wanted to see because you ran into a friend you made at the last conference and they want to go kill some time at the cheese sample booth, bad.
When asking frequent conference goers for foodservice conference tips, this one came up often: Act like an extrovert, even if you aren’t one.
For some, conferences are where they thrive. Meeting new people is exhilarating and going up to a stranger to strike up a conversation is as natural as breathing. For others, attending a conference is the stuff of nightmares. Walking into such a large venue can feel intimidating, and the idea of mingling with strangers is akin to jumping into shark infested waters with an open wound (or ten).
There are times when being introverted is helpful, but often times being at a conference is not one of them.
While it’s rarely as easy as “just don’t be nervous!”, there are a few tricks you can try to make connecting with other attendees a little less stressful:
- Attend some small sessions. This will give you the opportunity to meet some new people without feeling completely overwhelmed.
- Try to calm your nerves by reminding yourself that everyone is there for a common goal- to learn. I can say from experience that conference attendees are some of the friendliest people I’ve met! So many people feel out of their element, or remember a time when they did, and the amount of acceptance and guidance you can get from other attendees can be so helpful!
- Ask about a buddy system. Perhaps the event coordinator at the conference knows of someone that has attended before, that would love to check in with you during the conference and introduce you to some people. It doesn’t hurt to ask, and just knowing there is someone at the conference that you can lean on a little can make you feel at ease.
- Fake it ’till you make it. A friend of mine is extremely assertive and confident, and I am always in awe of her ability to walk into a room and so easily own it. Sometimes when I’m really feeling nervous, I’ll ask myself how she’d handle the situation and will try my best to act in a similar way. It is a way for me to get out of my head a bit and focus on something besides how overwhelmed I feel!
- Have a few ice breaker questions handy if you need to spark up a conversation. Check out the graphic below for some ideas:
Whether you’re at home in a sea of strangers or not, LinkedIn has a great tool that can help you connect with other attendees that you may already know (even if it’s only on social media).
The “find nearby” tool is a great way to connect with people you’ve connected with on LinkedIn! When turned on, it will tell you which of your connections is in the same vicinity, so you can reach out to people you may not have known would be attending. Click here to learn how to use this feature!
If there’s an app for the conference, use it!
In the post that precedes this, we talked about how helpful an event’s app can be. If the one you’re attending has one, be sure to use it during your time at the conference. Depending on its capabilities, you can use it to connect with other attendees, to give feedback to presenters, and much more. An app can be a valuable tool, so don’t waste that resource! If you’re not sure how to use the app, find someone who works for the company hosting the conference and ask for some help getting setup.
Another way to get plugged in is to see if the conference has designated a hash tag to use on social media. If they have, search it and connect with other attendees there!
Find your tribe, and then disassemble.
When you’ve been in the industry for a while and have attended conferences regularly, it’s easy to form a group that you stick with during the conferences. While it’s great to make friends in the industry, and attending these events with friends can make it more fun, it’s also important to remember that you’re not there to socialize, you’re there to make new connections. Resist the urge to spend all of your time with the same people. Instead opt for designating some time to be with your friends, and then go your separate ways. Doing so will ensure you are learning about what is most relevant to you, and that you’re meeting new people along the way. Perhaps you can plan to have breakfast together each morning, and meet up at the end of the conference to decompress and share what you’ve learned.
After the conference: it’s where the magic happens.
Hooray! You’ve made it through the conference and moved past the dreaded unpacking your suitcase, doing laundry and generally getting your life back in order component of attending a conference.
Now, it’s time to follow up with the people you met along the way, and share what you’ve learned with your colleagues.
If possible, plan to spend your first day back at the office catching up on things you missed while you were away, and the second day back rehashing what happened at the conference.
While connecting on LinkedIn and shaking hands is great, it means nothing if you aren’t doing anything to deepen the connection.
Spend some time getting organized, and put all of your new contacts into a spreadsheet, listing their name, contact information, and company information. Feel free to add in any notes you took or tidbits you recall from your conversations, even the personal things. If someone mentions they’re a big football fan, notate that and be sure to write it on your sheet. You never know when those things will come in handy!
Once you’ve gotten everything situated, take some time to think about what your ideal working relationship outcome would be with each person. Perhaps one might be someone that you’d like to have speak at an event you’re hosting, or you’d like to consider using someone’s product or service. Perhaps someone just was really kind and you’d like to stay in touch and catch them at another conference. Notate those things on your sheet, too.
Now it’s the fun part, reaching out to everyone on your list. Be sure to remind them who you are and give them a very brief recap of what you talked about at the conference. Be clear on what next steps you’d like to take (scheduling a call, doing a site visit, getting your team involved in a demo, etc.) and be sure to connect with each of them on LinkedIn as well.
Not everyone will get back to you, and that’s ok. Don’t beat yourself up about it, and don’t schedule a weekly reminder to reach out until you hear from them!
While everyone will probably ask you how the conference went, save the specific details for the right people. Schedule some time with co-workers that would benefit from hearing about different things you learned, and brainstorm some ways the connections you made and the things you learned can help them, too.
While the heavy lifting is done, be sure you keep up with the contacts you met and continue building on the new things you learned. But, take a deep breath and give yourself a pat on the back. You did great!