Conferences are microcosms of human society. They are opportunities to observe people of all ages interacting, performing, charming and arguing. Everyone is a little nervous before they arrive and then they reveal themselves in the few appointed days of concentrated interaction. Conferences are a great way of focusing and honing your communication skills and your identity. They are a great way of getting others to know you and your brand. On the downside, they can also be very damaging to your reputation and brand if they are not handled well.
I have attended dozens of conferences – academic, political, commercial, professional, thematic. Here are some of my takeaways for having a successful conference:
- Prepare for the conference using social media. Use social media to lay the groundwork for your interactions at the conference and to direct attention to yourself and your booth, as Scott Stratten points out in his engaging book, UnMarketing. Twitter (hashtags, in particular) and Instagram can be your friends.
- Build on relationships you already have. Every time you engage in a positive social interaction, you not only build social capital for you and the person you’re engaging with you’re also inspiring others to want to interact with you.
- Be authentic. Don’t treat the conference as a time to be a different version of you. Be the same person that you in everyday life while you are at the conference. The worst thing is for a group of people to begin speaking about you and shaping your reputation for you based on a performance on your part that was fake or contrived.
- Dress and behave appropriately. Remember that people form opinions of you within seconds of meeting you. They also form opinions of you as they gaze at you across a room. You want to be memorable, but for all the right reasons: you want to be remembered for your ideas and personality, not because of your appearance and outrageous behaviours.
- Plan your interactions before you converse. It is easy to get carried away in conversation during a wine and cheese, or at an after party or hospitality suite. Be careful what you say to others. Don’t be excessive in praise or criticism of others. Remember conferences are public performances to strangers. Take a few seconds an plan what you will say before entering a conversation.
- Blog during the conference. People are all using their computers, tablets or smartphones during the conference pretty much 24/7. Write quick, intelligent blog posts and then share them using the conference hashtag. Then follow them up in conversation. This is a quick way to build your credibility and audience.
- Manage your reputation. People will remember what you say to them and how you made them feel. Don’t fall prey to “What happens at the conference stays at the conference.” This just isn’t true. Conferences are reputation management on steroids. Don’t let excitement, alcohol and lack of sleep shape other’s trust in you and impression of you. People remember.
The most effective conference goers I know are those who treat them as occasions to meet people who will be new friends and professional acquaintances in the future. Those relationships are built over time, conference after conference. After a while, conferences become a place where you reconnect with old professional acquaintances and then broaden that circle as you accept others into your trust.