This Week’s Episode
I’m sharing 10 tips (plus a few bonus ones, too!) for attending and getting the most out of your first blogging or social media conference. As regular listeners know, this year I spoke at the #WeAllGrow Summit by Latina Bloggers Connect and #BlogHer15: Experts Among Us. These were my first two blogging conferences, and I have plenty of ideas to share!
You may be thinking this episode isn’t relevant to you if you aren’t including blogging as part of your business model, but most of these tips are transferable to any conference or event where both colleagues and potential sponsors are in attendance.
The tips are:
- Pack thoughtfully and light
- Dress for your niche
- Bring business cards
- Read ALL of the emails
- Organize and plan before the event
- Know your purpose
- Pad your budget
- Go the expo (or marketplace or vendor area) during off hours
- Add recovery time to your schedule
- Don’t forget to follow up
These tips will help you prepare for, navigate, and then get the most value for your business out of the event.
Let’s talk about saving money on attendance. The primary reason I haven’t attended blogging conferences in the past is because I didn’t want to spend a lot on registration and travel. There are four great ways to save money on any conference you plan to attend.
- Register at the Early Bird Rate. Virtually all conferences have an “early bird” rate for people who register far in advance. This rate often expires prior to the finalization of the agenda, so you may feel anxious about signing up for an event that may not focus on exactly what you need for your business. The good news is that most of these events allow you to transfer your registration for a small fee, so you can sell your ticket to someone else after the early bird period ends for a slightly higher amount without losing any money.
- Use a promo code. Most conference speakers and some sponsors will have promotional codes that provide a discount. These may be a bit harder to find (unless you stalk each and every speaker on social media/blog/podcast before the event), but the savings are generally quite significant.
- Volunteer. Many events offer free registration to volunteers who may staff registration, the expo, assist with workshops, etc. This option is much more hands on and requires that you do some work! But it can also be a great way to meet people and get on the radar of the organizers before next year’s event. Some of sponsors and vendors may also need help staffing their tables. While these (usually competitive) opportunities are often announced closer to the event, be proactive and reach out to the organizers to ask about available volunteer positions early.
- Speak. Panelists and workshop speakers are generally provided with free registration (and some events provide additional compensation including room and board and/or a speaker fee). For more tips for getting started as a speaker, listen to Episode 33: 7 Steps for Pitching Your Ideas for Workshops, Presentations, and Panel Sessions to Conferences and Events.
And, it goes without saying that you’ll save a lot on travel by attending a local conference.
10 Tips for Attending (and Getting the Most Out of) Your First Blogging or Social Media Conference
Once you’ve gotten registration (and travel plans, if necessary) out of the way, let’s talk about the other ways to get the most out of the event.
Pack thoughtfully and light
As yarn crafters, we often travel with yarn, hooks and needles, works-in-progress, and more. I’m definitely guilty of this. However…
- You may not have as much “down time” for crocheting or knitting as you expect,
- You may be picking up quite a few free samples, gift bags, and other items at this event. You’ll need as much space in your bag as possible to bring these goodies home.
- Don’t forget to bring comfortable shoes, as you may be on your feet walking and standing a lot
- If you organize and plan before the event, you’ll know exactly what type of clothing to bring for all the activities you plan to participate in.
Dress for your niche
Dress appropriately for your niche/brand. Fashion-oriented bloggers will need to dress differently from mommy bloggers. As a yarn-related business owner, don’t miss the opportunity to show off your handiwork. Handmade accessories (or clothing) are great conversation starters and help people to recognize you. There are hundreds (or thousands!) of people at these events, so everything you can do to stand out (while promoting your business) helps.
At each of these blogging conferences, someone came up to me and introduced themselves, knowing who I was based on recognizing something I made!
Bring business cards
As an online business owner and blogger, you may think that everything is electronic, on your smartphone, or in the cloud. Actually, a lot of people are still dealing with paper!
Here are two bonus business card tips:
- Design your own cards with a matte back with little to no text. This allows people to take notes on the back of your card, increasing the likelihood they will remember (and follow up) with you.
- Bring a small pouch for your cards and a pen. While many people use their ID badge holder for their own business cards and those of others they meet, I prefer to bring a small pouch that holds a pen and my cards, with room for picking up other cards. This allows me to always have a pen handy for my own notes. The pouch also keeps everything together once I get home for easier follow up.
Read ALL of the emails
This is the hardest tip to follow! Most events will bombard you with emails, especially in the weeks leading up to the event. When you are stressed out about taking time off for a conference, it might seem best to skip reading these all together.
These emails often include special pre-conference events, opportunities to meet with sponsors, and other activities that may not be on the formal agenda. By deleted or skipping these, you may miss out on a lot!
Organize and plan before the event
Again, with the time pressures before the event, many bloggers just want to show up and dive right in. As an introvert, this strategy doesn’t work for me as I get easily overwhelmed once I’m on site.
Instead, I review the emails and the posted agenda and I create my own schedule. This may include workshops or panel events I plan to attend, meetings with sponsors, meetups, sightseeing, or meals with friends. I create two tiers in my schedule – activities that I must attend (like a one-on-one meeting with a potential sponsor) and activities that I might attend (like a workshop that looks sort of interesting). When I get on site, I’m very flexiblle about ditching those activities in the second category.
Know your purpose
So, what are you hoping to get out of this event? Understanding your goal in advance will help you focus all of your preparations and your activities at the conference.
Some of the main reasons people attend blogging conferences are to:
- Learn. Are you primarily in attendance for professional development? You may find it important to spend more time in workshops, panels, and other structured activities.
- Network. Are you primarily looking for other bloggers to collaborate with? You may find it helpful to keep your schedule flexible so you can spend a lot of time chatting informally. You might also want to connect with some people of interest before the event to set up meetings or interviews.
- Find a sponsor. If sponsorship is your primary goal, you may spend more time in the expo hall and at sponsored workshops, and be more thoughtful about the brands you wear or bring with you to the event. You could also reach out to some of the brands in advance to try and schedule one-to-one meetings.
- Get ideas for your own event. Perhaps you are planning a local meetup or small blogging conference. In that case, you may want keep a critical eye on the way the event is organized and presented.
Pad your budget
Conferences can get expensive. If (ahem) you’re also a bit on the cheap side like me, you’ll find it tempting to have a very tight budget. Keep a cushion for a restaurant lunch with new friends (rather than the on-site panel lunch), sightseeing, or to purchase books or other goods from vendors and speakers.
If you’re also an introvert, you may also need to skip some of the larger meal events and eat alone, so having some leeway in your budget is helpful.
Go the expo (or marketplace or vendor area) during off hours
If you want to speak to sponsors and vendors, schedule your visits in the off hours. These will be different depending on the conference, but in general the night before the main conference “kick off,” during workshops or popular panels, and early in the morning are quieter times. Avoid the scheduled “expo break” times, if possible.
Add recovery time to your schedule
You may be losing out on a lot of work or family time to attend a conference, so what many people do is work up to the last minute and then try to immediately jump right back into the swing of things when they return.
If you’re traveling, you may be jet lagged or have a travel delay. Even if you are in your hometown, you’ll find that you may be exhausted after the conference. You’ll probably be doing a lot of walking, projecting your voice in loud spaces, etc. Be sure to add some recovery time into your schedule. You may find that prescheduling blog and social posts for the week of your return will give you some breathing room.
Another bonus tip: Preschedule some of your social media activity related to the conference, using the official conference hashtag. This will give you more time to focus on the conference and not on sharing while on site.
Don’t forget to follow up
Separate yourself from the pack by following up with people after the conference. Build time into your schedule after the conference for following up with potential sponsors, collaborators, and others that you meet. Even if you do one or two emails a day, you will be doing more than most people.
Think about how/if you want to follow people you met at the event. I find Twitter lists very helpful because I can keep track of people I met at an event without going over my follower limits.
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What are your suggestions for getting the most out of a blogging (or other social media or professional development) conference? Let me know about it in the comments here or in the Facebook group, Tweet me at @cyeshow, add me to your G+ circle and send me a note, or leave a message at 646-713-8973.
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