By Joe Bolick, Markecting Director, UNI Business and Community Services
Professional development, networking events, summits, conferences, peer learning...the list can go on forever. Invitations to these type of events are EVERYWHERE!! I see them all over social media, email, my office mailbox, even the bulletin boards at offices and coffee shops around town. With so many of them happening, I’m assuming they must be fairly well attended but the real question is….are they worth it?
The answer to this questions is like most things in business (and life, for that matter)...it depends. If you are simply showing up at these events out of obligation, there is probably not going to be all that much value to you. On the other hand, if you if you put just a little thought, strategy, and planning into your conferences/events, it can pay off big time!
Here are some things to think about before, during and after conferences and events.
How do you choose which event to attend?
If you want to have any sort of work/life balance, you realize you can’t possibly attend everything. So how do you choose which conferences and events to attend? I recommend creating a series of questions to ask yourself about each event you’re considering, and if it doesn’t meet all of those criteria, you don’t go. For instance, if there’s a professional networking event or conference opportunity, here are the questions I’d ask myself:
Is the event attended by current or potential customers/clients?
Does the event lend itself to conversations with these customers/clients?
If no for 1 and 2, will the event expand my professional network?
Is this event the only time I get to talk with certain important individuals in my professional network?
Will I gain professional knowledge or insight by attending the event?
Is the time taken away from my business to attend the event made up by the relationships and professional development gained from attending?
Walk in with a plan
A little planning ahead of time can pay significant dividends when it comes to attending these types of events. Every event you attend on behalf of your business should be thought out and planned ahead of time. The plan doesn’t necessarily have to be extremely detailed and thorough, but it should include a couple of key points, such as:
What is the overarching goal of attending this event for my business?
What do I need to do while there to accomplish this goal?
Are there individual people that are also attending that I need to talk to specifically?
If yes, how can I make sure this happens?
How am I going to keep track of what I accomplish at the event?
How and when do I follow up with those I meet?
By simply thinking about these things ahead of time, you will walk into the event or conference with a purpose rather than just seeing how it all play out.
You’re here….now what?
You took time to choose the perfect events and have a good plan in place for what you want to accomplish, so now it’s time to walk through those doors and get down to business...sort of.
Deals are seldom closed at these events, but many times seeds are planted and relationships are forged through other common interests and engaging conversations. You have to be careful in these more informal settings to not get caught up in being nothing but business the entire time. While that is the primary reason you are there, everyone at these events is away from work at that moment and being brought right back into heavy business conversations can turn people away. The follow up from these conversations is often the most critical step in developing relationships out of conferences/events, so make sure you take some notes throughout the event to remind yourself who you need to follow up with after the event. A simple way to do this is to jot down one or two conversation points on the back of each person’s business card right after you are done talking with them (because you’ve obviously exchanged cards at some point within the conversation...you didn’t need to hear that from me, right?).
Back to the grind
It’s so easy to get back to work after one of these events and keep chugging away at the next task on the to-do list, especially when you’re stuck playing catch-up if the event spanned several days or involved any travel. Don’t let that happen...what a waste of all that planning and preparation. Carve out some time within 2-3 days after the event to reach out to everyone you said you would follow up with. Thank them for the conversation during the event and mention that point or two that you scribbled on the back of their card. That little demonstration of engagement and recall can go a long way when building relationships. Now is the time to start conducting that heavy business you avoided at the event.
Was it worth it?
A few weeks after the event or conference, you should look back at those original questions you asked yourself before you attended. Evaluate the event based on whether or not those goals were attained. It can become really easy to evaluate these types of events based on how much fun you had, the location where they are held, or even the food and entertainment provided, but by setting those criteria and goals ahead of time, you give yourself a means for a more objective evaluation to determine if you continue to attend the same or similar events in the future.