With tightening travel and professional development budgets, I've adapted an earlier blog post about making the most of your conference experience. Conferences are expensive and so your company wants to know what’s in it for them.
And while of course you need to prove the ROI, you also need to think about it as "WIIFM" ("What’s in it for me”) to squeeze every valuable ounce out of your conference experience and delight your company.
With the US insights community’s largest industry conferences (TMRE and CRC) right around the corner, let’s talk personal branding and ROI:
- Block off your office calendar during the days of the conference. Activate your out of office message and be sure to mention that you’re WORKING offsite all day. It is really a crime against your boss and company to be dialing into staff meetings or writing emails from your hotel room when you mutually agreed that you’d be learning at a conference. The conference ROI of you missing the conference because you were sitting in your hotel room…it’s not pretty. Thank your boss/peers/staff for this critical professional development opportunity as appropriate and promise the right person at your company a brief ROI summary (more later).
- Highlight the agenda prior to the conference. Map out which sessions you want to attend. When there are several tracks running concurrently, I circle my agenda with all the sessions I want to see and then go back and refine when I’m actually at the conference. Sometimes the same (or similar) session is held at two different times during a conference so you don’t have to make tough tradeoffs. Or sometimes the keynote has a working session and after their opening presentation, so you could hear them twice or try something new.
- Plan your elevator pitch and ask: Whether you’re reserved or chatty, you’re going meet a lot of new people at conferences, so make sure to prepare your elevator pitch:
- “My name is ___ and I work for ___, the makers of ___. In the coming year we’re focused on improving our ___, and for that reason, I’m here at the conference to learn more about ___.”
- Here’s an example: “We just finished up a big customer journey project, which will help us drive the right messages to the right people at the right moments.” You can follow up with something like: “In the coming year we’re going to do a lot of messaging optimization and concept testing to bring those moments into focus by segment.” That’s your hook, and your reason for the conversation you’re having.
- Next comes your question. You’ve offered a bit about what you do, but who are you talking to? If they are a peer or competitor, ask, “How about you?” That’s it. You need to bring this information back to your company. If they are a supplier of research, ask, “How would you approach this if you were pitching to me?”
- Recap at least three sessions in writing so you can talk specifically about the cases during a future lunch and/or meeting: Don’t just return to the office and proclaim, “the conference was great; I learned so much.” Listen fiercely and write down who spoke, what they said, how they presented. Take something forward that you can apply in your own career. Why was that session useful? Did the speaker talk about a new technique? Did they present in a style that you want to mimic? Did they talk about the world of tomorrow in a way that’s accessible to you, can you bring it to life back at your company? Once you finish writing and are back home, how can you mention that session 3x, so it sticks in your active memory and changes something about your habits?
- Make a few new acquaintances (and connect on LinkedIn): You want to keep actively learning and building your professional network, so connect on LinkedIn with speakers and conference goers. One of our F100 clients recently told me, “I’m painfully introverted so I just go to the sessions.” And while of course I understand, it’s vital to us all to expand our network, from a peer, collaborator, and employee recruitment perspective. Let’s always be learning together.
- Bonus tip—take a photo of yourself with one of the famous speakers and share it with your CMO: OK, you don’t NEED to do this, but you need to come up with one visual representation of you broadening your horizons at the conference. If you’re speaking, get a photo of you while presenting (any of us will take it… just ask). If you’re attending, snap a picture of your favorite speakers or in “Booth City” where you’ll meet a number of suppliers. Share your photo with your company so they can experience your effort (and visualize you learning vs. at the pool). If relevant to you, even consider sharing it on LinkedIn or Twitter because a picture tells a great story (and gets a lot of likes!)
Are you heading to CRC or TMRE? If so, reach out and let’s connect while there!
Julie is an inspired TMRE Sponsor, participant, amplifier, socializer, and spotter, interested in your stories; follow her on LinkedIn.