Whatever anyone says about digital and social media, nothing can replace the power of face-to-face engagement, networking, and learning that can be experienced at a conference relevant to your business or passion.
I've been working in digital marketing for nearly 14 years now and I relish every moment I spend with my peers in the industry, either listening to them speak onstage, doing the speaking myself and hearing their questions, or chatting free-form until the wee hours in a hotel bar in some part of the world.
Sure, the Internet has broken down all sorts of barriers and enabled agile and immediate communication like never before, but there's still something to be said for a good old chinwag in the corridor of a hotel or convention center with someone you might end up working with or learning from.
When you get the opportunity to go, what's the best way to capitalize on the fact that your boss is letting you out of the office for a few days and has probably invested a good few thousand dollars in flights, hotels, and conference pass fees?
With ClickZ Live in New York right around the corner, here are four tips for getting the most from the conferences you go to.
1. Have a Plan Before You Go
Shocking thought, isn't it?! This means reading the conference agenda before you get on the plane and picking out the sessions/speeches you want to attend.
Showing up on the day without any idea who's speaking or what they're about will set you back, as you won't have really thought about the outcome of you being there. Spending a bit of time researching the speakers and their companies will help you pinpoint educational areas that might benefit you and your peers back home more greatly than others.
Also, as a speaker myself, there's nothing more annoying than latecomers or, even worse, people who leave because they've realized they're in the wrong session for their needs.
2. Take a Tour of the Expo Hall
Most conferences will have some kind of expo hall where companies have paid fees to set up a stall to demo their products or talk about their services. Make a point to chat to them all if you can.
Try and overcome any shyness and ask them what they do and how they could help you or your business. If they've sent real people, then they're after real conversations and you might as well learn what you can by asking probing questions. I've been surprised on many occasions how fruitful an expo hall conversation has been.
So, even if you don't think they'll have much in common with you, give them a chance. You might be surprised.
3. Take Lots of Notes and Photos
The dreaded conference trip recap needn't be a chore. Taking notes in each session will help you remember everything that was said, provide you with a lot of insight to take home to your business (and get a lot of kudos, too), and it could be used to create some really good content for your company blog or social media sites.
Turning what you learn into an opinion piece that's relevant and useful to your industry or hobby could in turn create a bit of online attention for you, as people who didn't make the conference are educated by proxy.
4. Network Like Crazy (and Don't Forget Your Business Cards)
Meeting and talking to people at these events is essential. You can't lurk around conversations at a dinner or a cocktail party and glean information like you can on Twitter or Facebook. You'd get short shrift and maybe get thrown out for being weird, so engage!
It always makes me giggle when I ask someone for a business card at a conference and they pat their pockets and say they've run out or don't actually carry them. I wrote a piece earlier this year about business cards not being dead that caused a bit of stir. Some likened it to that scene from American Psycho, but I stand by my opinion that you need something to hand off to a prospective client or partner so (especially if it was during the conference after-party) they'll remember you when they get back to their desk.
We may spend much of our time online these days for work and play, but remember you are social media. I am social media. We're all being social at these conferences we're lucky enough to attend, so make the most of it and carry those relationships back online through the interwebz and stay connected so we can learn more from each other until the next time we meet again.