+ Point of view

How to cut through conferences

Written by Jordan Ratcliffe

“I would rather have a tooth pulled without anaesthetic than go to the Excel centre again” as one journalist put it to me on the phone. In other words, it’s safe to say conferences, conventions and expos can be polarising experiences which not everybody is a fan of.

All the big names are there to sell, the press is on the hunt for the next big story and thought leaders are trying to lead everyone’s thoughts. As someone looking to put your best foot forward and get your business’ name out there, how can you make the best use of your time at an event?

Fail to prepare…
…prepare to fail. With conferences and events lasting only a day or two, making arrangements on the day is far too late. To make the most of the limited time (and space!) it is best to start catching up with any attending clients, members of the press or new business prospects a month before the event to make sure there is room in everybody’s diaries. Act fast to secure the best interview rooms or face ruining a journalist’s audio recording with background noise while you shout to hear each other over a plastic garden table.

Also make sure in the days before the event to scope out any talks, seminars or workshops which promise to be popular. Sign yourself up if this is an option to guarantee yourself a seat and avoid standing on tiptoes on a nearby vendor’s stand trying to see the stage.

Take note of the keynote
Event organisers go out of their way to ensure a BIG name will be headlining the main stage on the first day. Whether it be an astronaut, former head of an intelligence agency the latest whistleblower, all good events have a speaker who will get people out of bed in the morning.

Their speech will doubtless be written to create headlines so everyone will be listening to what they have to say in the overcrowded. So, listen to what they say to. Find the centre of the Venn diagram where their talking points relates to your own narrative. Use this when speaking to others to emphasise how relevant you are.

Break free
‘Plan your day!’ This is the plea of hundreds of flyers trying to persuade you to put a copy of the day’s schedule into your hand. Conferences can be jam-packed with talks and workshops, creating a sense of urgency to educate yourself by filling your day with as many – let’s be honest – lectures as possible. This would be a mistake though.

With some events lasting a single day you’d be surprised how it can concentrate people into one place and time. You might not be able to get into the press room without your agency arranging an elusive press briefing. But, by taking the time to explore the venue you might be surprised how many impossible-to-reach new business prospects or journalists appear, the same people who may have even told you a few weeks before they were definitely not going. Suddenly you have the perfect opportunity to bond over ludicrously expensive lunch options (“Seriously, £8 for caesar wrap?”) and the latest learnings from the day (Do say: Have you ever heard of Bring Your Own Application? Don’t say: Stand B35 has free beer if you pretend to be interested in them).

To sum up, plan your time at the conference in advance to maximise your opportunities to fill your day with valuable conversations and interactions. Then, plan your day again once you’re at the event to fill any gaps in your schedule. Then, take whatever breaks you have to explore the venue and see who you can bump into. Afterwards, follow up with everyone you met via email, keep the conversations going. Then, take about a week off to de-stress before you prepare for the next event.

Or, if this maybe sounds like a little too much, just hire a PR agency to take care of the day for you…