For someone who spends most of her days sitting alone behind a computer, entering a crowded room filled with hundreds of strangers can be a bit intimidating. I know because I’ve been there, done that.
In 2015, I went to Rainmaker Digital’s Authority Rainmaker conference by myself. It was not only my first time attending a conference solo, it was also my first conference where I was representing my business, not an employer’s.
My previous employer sent me to the 2014 Authority conference, and what I learned that year prompted me to leave that job and start my own business. (You can read that story here.)
So, I couldn’t miss the next event — even if that meant going alone. And I’m so glad I did.
The conference provided me with motivation, smart guidance, expert advice, and a network of colleagues that have been integral to helping me grow my new business.
No matter what conference is ahead — but especially if you’re attending Rainmaker Digital’s Digital Commerce Summit this year on October 13-14, 2016 in Denver, Colorado — here are simple tips to optimize your experience before, during, and after the event.
Before you attend
When you approach any project with a plan, you will have better results.
Don’t wait until you’re on the plane or walking into the opening reception to strategize for the conference.
If you prepare now, you can even become a sponsor to expose your business to influencers and decision makers.
Identify your goals
Not everyone who attends a conference has the same goals. My goals in 2014 (when I was attending as a sponsor) were very different from my goals in 2015 (when I was representing my business).
Choose one or two goals that are the most important to you.
Are you looking to:
- Learn something new? If so, what skills are you specifically looking to hone? Which sessions or person could help you learn that skill?
- Find a solution to a business problem? If so, who or what at the conference can help you solve it?
- Meet people? If so, what type of people? A network for referrals? A community for support? A person for a potential partnership?
- Sell a product or generate leads? If so, who is likely to buy your product? How can you connect with that target audience at the event?
- Find a vendor? If so, browse the event sponsors before you attend. Which one offers solutions to what you need?
Network and make plans to meet up with other attendees
Don’t wait until you walk into the opening reception to meet people.
Use social media to reach out to other attendees who have posted with the event hashtag prior to the conference. Spark up a conversation and make plans to meet up on the first day.
Hone your elevator pitch
Your elevator pitch doesn’t have to be a sales pitch. Unless you are there primarily to seek out new customers or clients, you don’t need to sell what you do.
You just need a 15-second elevator pitch that simply says:
- Your name
- Your business or employer’s name
- What you do and why you do it
Arm yourself with conversation points
Know how to keep conversations going by arming yourself with some talking points.
Many attendees of past Rainmaker Digital events love that you get a single-track educational experience, personally curated and handcrafted by Brian Clark, and shared by every attendee.
If there is a lull in conversation, the single-track experience makes it easy for you to ask questions like:
- What are you hoping to gain from the conference?
- How are you enjoying the conference?
- What’s been your favorite takeaway from the conference?
- Who has been your favorite speaker?
- Have you been to the conference before?
- How far did you travel to get here?
Create a free offer or giveaway
Consider creating a free offer or giveaway prior to the event. That way, you can offer it to new contacts you meet and highlight it on your website to attract the attention of visitors you met at the event.
While you’re there
Once you arrive, the real fun starts.
Shake the fears of in-person events
If you are nervous, remember this: many people attend conferences by themselves.
Look for others who are flying solo and make a confident introduction knowing they are as happy to talk to you as you are to talk to them.
For more tips, check out Pamela Wilson’s article: The Introvert’s Guide to Surviving an In-Person Conference.
Don’t be shy on social media
Last year, I used social media to put myself out there.
I was a little embarrassed when I posted this tweet right before the opening reception, but multiple people stopped to have a conversation with me because they saw it.
— Raubi Marie Perilli (@RaubiMarie) May 13, 2015
Erin Flynn created a list of Authority Rainmaker 2015 attendees and sent a message out to the event hashtag.
This simple action made Erin the unofficial Twitter group leader of the event.
— Erin E Flynn (@erin3flynn) May 13, 2015
Find a “conference anchor”
If you’re attending the conference alone, you don’t have to be on your own. Look for someone else who is attending alone and ask him or her to be your “conference anchor.”
A conference anchor is a person who is your home base for the event. If you find yourself wandering around alone, go find your anchor.
— Sonia Thompson (@TRYbizschool) May 16, 2015
Eat at least half of your meals with strangers
While it’s fun to make friends and spend time with those connections, don’t forget that you should still make an attempt to meet other new people.
Try to eat at least half of your meals with a table of strangers.
Collect and give business cards
Bring business cards and don’t forget to use them.
End conversations by asking someone if you can grab their card so you can check out their business. This approach creates an opportunity for you to hand over your card without it feeling forced.
Focus on creating authentic relationships
I used to attend conferences and feel a sense of victory depending on how many connections I made. But when I went into the conference last year, I had a different approach.
Instead of focusing on talking to a lot of people, I focused on really getting to know a few people. I sought out relationships, not connections. That approach gave me far more value than previous events.
After you leave
Don’t close the book on the conference the day you leave. Let the benefits flow into upcoming months.
Use the conference as an opportunity to create content
Clark Buckner planned ahead and used the conference as an opportunity to fill his podcast schedule. He took advantage of having so many smart content marketers in one place and recorded dozens of interviews from the event.
— Clark Buckner (@ClarkBuckner) May 14, 2015
Follow up with everyone
A day or two after the conference, pull out those business cards you collected and put them to use:
- Make connections on LinkedIn.
- Follow your new colleagues on Twitter and add them to a list of Digital Commerce Summit connections so you can keep track of that specific network.
- Send each person an email with at least one detail you discussed, to reinforce your connection.
- Use Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to connect with the people you formed more personal friendships with.
Follow an action plan
Digital Commerce Summit is going to give you a lot of momentum. It’s going to fill you with inspiration and ideas. Don’t lose that when you board your plane to go home.
Take the knowledge and excitement you gain from the conference and put it into action. Schedule at least half a day upon your arrival home to review your notes and identify an action plan for how you can execute what you learned.
An outstanding conference experience starts and ends with planning
I followed these simple steps last year and they helped produce wonderful benefits:
- I was asked to guest blog on an attendee’s website.
- I was asked to be interviewed on an attendee’s podcast.
- I found someone to interview for my website.
- I met someone I could partner with to support my service offerings.
- A group of people and I started a private Facebook group for brainstorming.
- I met a good friend who has helped me when I’ve struggled with work. And, she’s going to be both my roommate and my conference anchor this year.
Plus, I had an awesome time!
So if you’re headed to Digital Commerce Summit this year on your own, don’t be anxious. Be excited. Use these tips to get prepared. Have a mission when you get there, and come find me to say hello.
Join us October 13-14, 2016 in Denver, Colorado
Digital Commerce Summit is the premier live educational and networking event for entrepreneurs who create and sell digital products and services. It’s a value-packed experience that will define the digital commerce industry.
This inaugural conference features an integrated agenda that covers digital product and service creation, plus the latest cutting edge marketing, sales, and product launch techniques from expert practitioners.