How to make the most of conferences and exhibitions?

Before you decide to attend a conference, ask yourself a few questions.

-What do I want to get from the conference?

-What good will it bring for my company?

-Who do I want to meet there and for what reason?

Every conference requires your time, money and efforts. If you think that the possible outcome (a.k.a opportunity) is higher than the cost – go for it. And remember, it’s always up to us if we make it work. So “hustle” is a good term to have in mind when going to a conference.

If you work in the iOS industry I highly recommend attending events like Macworld iWorld, TechCrunch, LeWeb, TNW Conference, MWC, GDC and AppsWorld.

Over the last 3 years I’ve attended more than 20 conferences and exhibitions, so there are a few important lessons I want to share with you.

1. Give before you get.
The first rule of every tech ecosystem sounds “Give before you get”. I personally think that this is a great concept even for conferences and exhibitions. If you are an expert, or have some important data that might be helpful for people out there – don’t be selfish! This tactic will do you good, believe me. First, it’ll bring you credibility which is vital for our business. Second, you will win new friends, that might be helpful in the future. Nowadays, I mostly go to conferences to help other people.

Tip: I usually share marketing techniques, App Store data and trends. Connecting people is also great.

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2. Become a speaker.
You have to stand out from the crowd. One of the best ways to do it is to become a speaker. Not only does it open many doors, but also you will be able to share your knowledge and help others. It does requires time though to prepare a good presentation. But where else would you test your public speech skills and persuasive experience?

The speaker lounges usually are the best places to meet great people. Use this opportunity!

Tip: have a great and entertaining story to tell about your company or product (yes, product placement still works). Mingle with other speakers during the event.

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3. Plan meetings in advance.
Events are great for meetings. Look at MWC for example: 70,000 people from all over the world are coming each year to Barcelona. CEOs, CTOs, management, marketing folks, press and others are in the house! Time to meet clients and close some deals. But be aware, that events like MWC are so huge, that you have to book your meetings in advance, well in advance (I’d say 3-5 weeks).

Tip: if you are looking for press, contact some of your friends who are exhibiting at the event, and kindly ask them for a press list (usually it is handed out to the exhibitors).

4. Leave some time slots open.

Sometimes, spontaneous meetings can be fruitful! So don’t forget to leave a few open slots in your calendar (I hope you use our Calendars 5) to meet people. Last year I spent the whole night before MWC going through the press list. Despite the last minute notice I managed to meet absolutely incredible people from world’s largest magazines and online publications (remember, you have “to hustle” to achieve your goals).

Tip: while meeting new people try to be useful for them in first place. Only after you can ask something in return.

5. Don’t run around and pitch everyone.

One investor got pitched in WC during TechCrunch in San Francisco. He wasn’t very happy about it. Remember, the first impression is vital, and if you really need this person in the future – find a better way to attract his/her attention. Just be creative!

Tip: a friend of mine asked a person he wanted to talk to (say Gary Vaynerchuck) to play rock scissors paper, and if he wins – the person should spend 10 minutes talking to him. 

6. Build long-lasting relations with key people.
This comes as a result of a successful people approach (see #1).
Depending on the nature of your business and your goals at the event, you have to have various strategies on how to approach people. It is absolutely up to you (and your personality) to decide how you are going to do it: be fun, freaky, geeky, intelligent, interesting to have a conversation with. Soft skills is the key here. Don’t expect instant returns though. It takes time and effort.

Tip: we are all people in the end, so don’t be an asshole. Then your chances of maintaining this important relationship is higher.

7. Party, but not too hard.

Parties can’t be missed if you want to chat with people in a relaxed atmosphere. Sometimes you chat with complete strangers and find out that they are the people you’ve been looking for. Sometimes, it’s a waste of time. Make sure you chose the right party to attend. Private/ invite-only parties usually have great crowd to hang out with.

Tip: one thing I learned is that you can take full advantage of open bars only during your last night out. Otherwise, you wan’t make a good impression on people being hangover, if you drink too much at the first day of the conference. (This is how crazy IT party looks like – see below).

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Overall, I feel that attending these events has helped me to build great relationships with key people in the industry and learn more. Sometimes, however, it’s better to stay at home and get your work done if you have tight deadlines. The bottom line is, if you have something cool to share with the world – just do it.

I am happy to share more with you, so ask me anything in the comments below.

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