5 Strategies for Maximizing Every Conference You Go To

Do you make the most of every conference you go to?

Or, are you basically throwing money out the window every time you go to a conference?

Think about it for a second.

You probably spend THOUSANDS of dollars any time you go off to a conference.

You have to pay for a flight, hotel, meals, Uber, those fancy new shoes, maybe a mani-pedi before you leave (you know who you are)…  and you have to take time away from family, friends, and other interests.

All so you can hang out with strangers.

So you probably want to maximize your investment, right?

Of course you do.

But you’re probably doing it wrong.

In fact, some people do conferences so wrong, they might as well put their money in a pile, douse it with kerosene, light a match and burn it.

Poof. Bye-bye, money!

So let’s try to put a stop to that, ‘mkay?

In this post, I want to share 5 strategies for maximizing the conferences you do attend to grow your network, connections, build business alliances, and create further opportunities for yourself and your business.

But first: what are the typical ways people screw up the conferences they attend?

Here are some big ways people do conference-going WRONG:

  •      Too little time building relationships.
  •      Too much time eating or checking their phone
  •      Not researching enough about the conference in advance
  •      Leaving early (if you don’t have to)
  •      Not learning about other attendees or the conference speakers in advance

It’s a long list, and I could go on. But let’s now focus on a few best practices you can use for the next conference you attend.

Here are 5 strategies for making the most out of every conference you attend:

1. Be Very Selective About Which Conferences You Go to

The first step toward making the most out of conferences you attend is to be very selective about which conferences you do attend.

You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip. And no matter how hard you try, you’re not going to get good ROI if you’re in the wrong room to begin with.

You don’t want GREAT relationships with the WRONG people who can’t help your business.

I am very choosey about which conferences I go to, because I don’t want to waste my time and I especially don’t like missing weekend time with my family. I imagine you probably feel the same way.

You should be very clear on your goals and how the conference will specifically help you to achieve them.

There’s a number of ways of measuring the benefits, but there are four primary benefits: (1) the knowledge you will gain, (2) the relationships you will build there, (3) the increased exposure (especially when speaking), and (4) the inspiration you will walk away with.

These four areas are not equally weighted. Personally, I find I rarely learn massive insights I couldn’t have gained while staying at home, but I do find conferences are massively helpful for forging strong relationships. And I also often walk away excited and inspired.

So ask yourself – is there really some unique value to attending this conference?

Are there people who will be attending that I have no other way to meet, and will I have opportunities to get to know them more than just in passing?

Am I just going because it’s a cool location or I want to see someone famous speaking from the stage?

That’s cool and all, but it doesn’t pay the bills.

2.  Organize a Group Lunch or Dinner Before, During, or After the Conference

I recently got back from speaking at the first Webinar Ninja Live conference in beautiful sunny San Diego, and one of the best things I did was organizing a lunch with a few speakers, attendees and non-attendees on the day before the conference began.

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(L to R, back row) Tarek Statico, JJ Jordison, Frank Bria, John Corcoran, Chandler Bolt, Ryan J. Williams, Matthew Kimberley, Omar Zenhom, Pat Flynn, Dr. Dave Stachowiak, Colleen Taylor, Wes Chapman; (L to R, front row), Nicole Baldinu, Jacob Sapochnik, Clay Hebert, Grant Baldwin, Kate Erickson

My friends Omar Zenhom and Nicole Baldinu, the creators of the Webinar Ninja software, were kind enough to invite me to speak at the conference alongside some incredible speakers who I didn’t deserve to share the stage with, including Clay Hebert, Grant Baldwin and the dashing and debonair Matthew Kimberley.

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I actually proudly stole the idea of doing a group meal from my friends Jayson Gaignard and Scott Oldford who both have books which have step-by-step instructions for how to create a dinner or lunch like this.

[Also: check out my podcast interview with Jayson, and another interview with past guest Jon Levy on how to create an “Influencer Dinner.”]

A few years ago, Jayson started organizing dinners on the night before conferences he was planning to attend. He found that often people would get in to town the day before the conference began and have a few hours with no preset agenda.

So he started organizing these dinners on the night before, and he found it was a great tool for forging relationships with other conference attendees and even the speakers, who often would not have plans for dinner the evening before a conference began.

If you want to organize one of these lunches or dinners, it helps to invite a few other people who your target attendees would like to meet.

In my case, that ended up being Pat Flynn and John Lee Dumas (John ended up not being able to make it but his girlfriend & business partner the lovely Kate Erickson did.)

For more advice on how to put together one of these lunches or dinners, grab a copy of Jayson or Scott’s books.

3.  Research other Attendees

I’ve written about this before, but when you research other attendees you may find a few people who are attending the conference who you definitely want to meet.

That will allow you to make a point of finding them so you can introduce yourself.

For example, at the Webinar Ninja Live conference, one person came up to me and introduced himself, told me he was on my email list, and told me he was also a long-suffering Redskins fan like me.

I immediately liked him. He clearly knew who I was and made a point of coming up to speak with me.

The last thing you want to have happened is find out after a conference that there was someone cool who you didn’t know was going to be there so you didn’t have the opportunity to meet them. So do your research in advance.

4.  Make the Most of Breaks and Meals to Meet Other Attendees

During one of the breaks at Webinar Ninja Live, I noticed that Wes Chapman wasn’t eating.

(Wes is the cofounder with my friend JJ Jordison and Cole Hatter of the Thrive Conference in Las Vegas).

Wes mentioned he often doesn’t eat at networking events, which puts him at an advantage because it allows him to spend more time meeting people.

Which is, after all, why you came to the conference in the first place, right? You came to meet people. (And maybe learn some stuff.)

So skip the eating or make it quick so you can spend more time meeting people.

Too many people immediately rush off to check their email or voicemail, missing huge relationship-building opportunities.

I try to do the opposite. If I’m at a conference, I’m not checking my email at all. My wife even texted me the night after Webinar Ninja Live to ask if I was OK because she hadn’t heard from me in 24 hours. (Whoops!  Sorry honey!)

Matthew Kimberley did a great job of this at Webinar Ninja Live. He set up shop at the back of the auditorium as people were filtering in to their seats, greeting people and shaking hands as they came in, like a really pleasant carnival barker.

If you’re a speaker at an event, I believe you have even more of an obligation to spend time mingling during these breaks and meals.

You should be like the groomsmen at a wedding – going around to mingle with the guests because the hosts often are busy and can’t get around to speak personally with everyone.

But the attendees will know who you are and will really appreciate it if you took the time to come up and introduce yourself.

5.  Provide Value to the People You Meet When You Follow Up

The worst thing you can do after a conference is nothing. But sadly, this is what most people do.

After the conference is when your work starts.

After I’ve met someone at a conference, I could simply send them an email.

A lot of people don’t even take this small step. So if you do, you’re already winning. But let’s take it further.

How can you provide immediate value to that person you just met? Maybe knock their socks off a little.

For me, that usually means introductions. I’m thinking about who I know that I can introduce that person to. When I get back to my computer, I will follow up with the person I met and ask if I can introduce them to someone I know.

If they like the idea, then I’ll do an introduction via email. You can do this in about 20 seconds.

For you, it could be simply following up on a conversation with additional resources.

6.  Remember Why You Are Doing It All

Finally, remember what is at stake with every conference you attend.

When you spend time away from your family and friends to attend a conference, you should make it count.

While I was gone, my wife sent me this awesome picture of my boys:

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I think Tobey would like a bite of ice cream – ya think?

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Tobey plowing the fields

 

These pictures are from Blackie’s Hay Day, which is an annual kids’ event in my hometown that happened to fall on the same day as the Webinar Ninja conference.

In fact, I took this picture of me and my son Mason two years earlier at the exact same event:

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I remember that moment well, and how much I enjoyed doing a train ride with my son.

I hate missing stuff like that, but I don’t stop going to conferences because I know the relationships I form at the conferences I do attend will help to grow my business and allow me to pay for my kids to go to events like Blackie’s Hay Day.

At the conference, I got to meet for the first time face-to-face guys like Matthew Kimberley and Grant Baldwin and Chandler Bolt.

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Left to right: John Corcoran, Grant Baldwin, Chandler Bolt

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(L to R:) Tony Rulli, Julia Tunstall, John Corcoran, Mike Vardy, JJ Jordison, Amechi

These are people who I had already done business with and will do business with again.

Also, at the lunch, I got to spend time with Pat Flynn, whose Smart Passive Income blog and podcast has so inspired and guided my journey from unhappy lawyer to happy entrepreneur who receives emails like this one I got a few days ago:

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I also met new people like Rick Clemons and Christopher Solimine, and who knows where those relationships will lead and what types of business opportunities will come from them.

In short, I got to spend time with people who inspire me and who align with my business goals. And that’s a powerful combination.

That’s why I do it.

Now, I want to hear from you – what tips do you have for maximizing the conferences you attend? Leave a comment below. 

  • This is a great post, John! One thing that I would add is.. take pictures. I always forget to take pictures and then I get home and see that everyone else has tons of pictures with the awesome people they met. Thanks for remembering me and mentioning my name!

    • That’s good advice Chris. Although I will add a caveat as it pertains to VIPs as a conference. I will say if you are looking to build a relationship with a VIP who you meet at an event, I think asking for a picture with them can make it seem a bit like you’re …. I don’t know, a “fan”? If you want to be seen as more of a colleague (even if you don’t feel like one yet), then you might want to NOT ask for a picture. Just my take on it. Others may disagree.

      • I definitely agree with you on that. I meant more like taking pictures with your friends and colleagues at events.

  • Thanks for this interesting post John. Apart from the 6 excellent points you offered in order top maximize your attendance at any conference I always keep any conversations I had totally focussed on the person you are speaking with and kept my “introduction” to an absolute minimum. It’s amazing how much you will learn and be remembered if you show genuine interest in other people. This is especially so at conferences where so many people simply bore the pants of others with their “networking elevator speeches”