Tackle Conferences like a PRO

January 30, 2023


PRO Tips For Conference Season

Conferences- not only are they a great opportunity to generate sales and learn about the latest developments in your field, but they are also a valuable source of inspiration and motivation. The CODE Team is constantly on the go and has picked up a few PRO tips and tricks along the way. If you’re looking for how to maximize your time or want some ideas on how to get the most value out of work travel, you’re in the right place! Here’s how CODE’s CEO leverages conferences for maximum impact.

How can you maximize time at a conference?

One of the most helpful things you can do prior to a conference is plan ahead. As we like to say at CODE: plan your work and work your plan. First, determine what your goals are. Are you mainly there to learn? If so, what do you NEED to learn? Before you even set foot in the conference venue, take some time to review the schedule and plan out which sessions to attend. This will help you make the most of your time and ensure that you don’t miss any key speakers. During the sessions, ask questions and get answers from the experts. It can be intimidating, but if you have a thoughtful question thirsty for an answer, don’t be afraid to speak up. Directly after each session, take 5 to 10 mins to write up a quick summary of the talk. Keep note of key learnings and takeaways in bullet points. It takes discipline to do this, but it’s worth the effort- this 5 min exercise will help you remember what you learned, make it easier to apply your new knowledge, and share the cliff notes version with your colleagues.

Next question to consider: are you mainly there to network or generate sales? With either option, you’ll want to review the attendee and vendor list in advance and try to set up meetings with people as you can. Look up their information on LinkedIn or their company’s website to get a better understanding of their background. Attend networking events and make an effort to connect with attendees. Bring business cards and be prepared with your elevator pitch about your organization. After the conference, you have to make an effort to bring it home. Be sure to follow up either via email or LinkedIn with any contacts you made, share something specific that indicates you were listening, and close with next steps. Whether it’s asking someone to sign up for your newsletter or scheduling a call to discuss a potential collaboration, following up is key.

What steps should you follow to get the most value out of work travel?

For any conference, it’s important to track the return on investment (ROI). It’s easy to get in the habit of going to the same conferences every year, especially when you become a pro at navigating specific ones. However, some conferences may start to recycle information so it’s important to reevaluate where you should go. Are there new attendees? Different vendors? Is the session line-up new and novel? Were the goals you designed pre-conference achieved? Taking a 10,000-foot approach on whether or not to attend a conference can save you and your company from unrealistic expectations. Continue to search for events with speakers and topics that are forward-thinking.

Get to know CODE’s CEO: What is Bre’s game plan for conferences?

So you’ve done your homework, scheduled your flight and have a general idea of what you’re looking to get out of the event. Awesome! As a CEO and seasoned attendee of conferences like OVBC, AAOE, and AAOS, and more, I carve out time beforehand and follow those steps for every event–and check off a few more line items. For me, so much of conference preparation is personal. As a CEO, a mom of three and wife, I spend a chunk of time cascading expectations to the company, coordinating childcare, and squeezing in some personal time with friends and family. Making sure my family and my company will run smoothly in my absence helps make the switch from businesswoman and mom to tradeshow ninja.

Below is my personal conference planning list, a deep dive look into how I plan my work and work my plan.

The Prep Work:

Schedule Management | These shows are often in a different state, and take place Thursday-Saturday. Like any trip, you have to have a plan for being away from both your desk and your home. Pre-conference, be sure to arrange dependent care (your kids, dogs, cats, and/or plants…), block out your work calendar and set your out-of- office autoresponder. Schedule management isn’t just prep work though! Often overlooked, but equally as important, try and carve out time for after the event. Use that safety net to catch up–professionally and emotionally. When you do compensate for those extra hours worked, keep post-conference ROI analysis high on the priority list.

What I’m Packing | If my conference goal involves sales or speaking, I always check a bag. My carry-on checklist includes two conference-ready outfits and hygiene essentials just in case my checked bag gets lost. It would be an absolute nightmare trying to find a conference-appropriate ensemble hours before the tradeshow floor is in full swing. My checked bag? I’m bringing along a second monitor. When I get back to my hotel room, I use this second screen to efficiently log conference related meetings, session notes, and to keep up with emails, juggle sales fire drills and stay ahead of internal requests that build up while I’m at the conference. I don’t know about you, but I’m so much more productive with a second screen. If the conference goal is to learn, I don’t bring my beloved extra monitor. It forces me to spend time thinking, and writing, which helps me absorb what I learned. Also in my checked bag lives gym gear; in addition to staying healthy, hitting the gym in the morning serves as an excellent networking/sales opportunity.

The most strategic item I pack is shoes. Conferences involve a ton of walking and standing. There’s nothing worse than being on your feet all day knowing you’ll have a set of blisters when you get home. It is a certain kind of magic to find a perfect pair of tradeshow shoes–that go-to pair that you can literally wear all freaking day. I’ve had the same pair for years! Even after the company stopped selling them, I’ve continued to get them repaired because I know I can make it through each conference day with ease. Don’t underthink your shoe situation–break them in beforehand and if they are not broken in, bring an alternate pair in the same style and color so you can switch it up if needed.

Now that you know my conference staples, here are some additional must-haves that I triple-check are in my bag before take-off:

  • Business cards | Trade shows are all about networking, so make sure to bring plenty of business cards to exchange with potential clients and partners.
  • Portable phone charger | With all the networking and running around you’ll be doing at a tradeshow, it’s easy to drain your phone’s battery. Pack a portable phone charger to keep your phone powered up throughout the day.
  • Pens | All conferences have pens on the table, sure, but boy are they cheap. Knowing that you’ll be taking notes, don’t rely on the crap they hand out for free. Bring a trusty writing utensil that you like (and then pack a few more.)
  • Stain Remover | I like to invest in nice trade show clothing; pieces that are too dressy for an internal work meeting but not the right energy for a nice night out with friends. So it is a notable setback when I spill a bit of coffee on my shirt. Having a stain remover pen or wipe in close proximity has saved me from disappointment more times than I want to admit.
  • A sweater or jacket | Conference rooms can sometimes be chilly, so it’s a good idea to pack a sweater or jacket just in case. If you’re uncomfortable during a session, it’s so hard to concentrate on what the speaker is saying. I much prefer to break out a sweater I stuffed in my conference bag and get back to being fully engaged in learning than constantly distracted by the goosebumps on my arms.
  • Noise-canceling headphones | Tradeshows can be loud and hectic, and sometimes you just need a moment of peace and quiet to answer a call or review an email from an exec. Noise-canceling headphones can help you find some solitude in the midst of the chaos.
  • A portable wifi hotspot | So many family phone plans have an affordable option for a portable hotspot. From my experience, large trade show venues are great networking environments and horrible places to refresh emails, stream videos, and find people on LinkedIn. ‘No service’ notifications are things of the past: until you get into the Javits. Having the hotspot in my bag and getting my mobile devices hooked up saves me from awkwardly delaying conversation when I’m trying to pull up demo land with a lead.

It’s Show-Time

After I get situated in my hotel, review my pre-established plan and pinpoint how to get to the opening session, I throw on my trusty pair of conference shoes and start making use of the in-between time. Obviously, the sessions and exhibitor hours are great for meeting new connections, talking to partners and catching up with industry friends. But I find huge value in the in between moments- when people are checking into the hotel, grabbing a snack in the lobby, etc. 

My employees would tell you I am a high-energy person. From waking up and getting my children (and myself) ready for the day, to squeezing in a Peloton ride during my lunch hour, to demoing our product in customer meetings and still making it to gymnastics practice to cheer on my daughter from the watch room, I hustle. I keep the same energy when I’m traveling for work. 

Early in the morning, I’m hitting the gym. Making conversation during a warm-up jog has helped me make some wonderful connections. Seriously, when I’m walking down the rows of booths I am in sales-shark mode but when I’m just trying to get in a quick workout, I get to take that hat off and focus on getting to know people in a different light. Maximizing your morning is a great way to have even more meaningful conversations with industry-active individuals. 

On the same line of thought, late night people enjoy dinner and drinks after the show shuts down for the day. Why not join them? Hitting the bar or coordinating a table at a restaurant gives you extra time to deeper understand potential customer goals, partner roadmaps, and more. So when 4 PM comes around, I recommend drinking that double-shot of espresso drink, loosening your metaphorical collar, and having a little work fun.

To wrap it up, attending conferences can be a valuable opportunity for professionals in any industry as long as you plan it out. These tips have helped the CODE team really make work travel advantageous and we continue to look for ways to ensure the cost of a conference is a fruitful investment. From a high-level overview of conference advice to a more personal look into what works for me, I hope you’ve found some nugget of information to take to your next event. Speaking of which, where are you heading to next? Whether it’s AAOS, AAOE, AAHKS, or any others we’re curious about what you have penciled into the calendar. Let me know so we can grab a drink, get a coffee, put a workout on the agenda or schedule a demo at the booth–you know, make the most out of conference travel: what do you have penciled in on your calendar?

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