“Getting the Most Out of Business Conventions” - Review of the Denver Small Business Expo
Before the Conference
1. Sign Up
Sometimes the hardest part about getting something out of business conventions is the simple act of knowing that they are happening. Always keep an eye out for advertisements, and chat with other businesses in the area that might know more about upcoming events. There are usually several different registration packages to choose from, so choose the one that makes the most sense for you and your company depending on your needs and your budget.
2. Know the Format
Showing up to large business conventions can be extremely intimidating without a plan. There are often several types of events within the convention, with several things happening at once. Looking at the schedule for the event and determining a game plan ahead of time can add structure to the conference, and ensure that you make it to the events most relevant to you. Having a gameplay can also reduce your stress levels during the hectic event.
3. Business Cards
Business conventions are a great place to network and make connections (see our last blog post for more info about this). Make sure you have enough business cards to pass out to potential partners and clients before you arrive. Don’t worry though - if you’re running low on physical business cards you can always ask someone to *snap a pic* of your card instead of actually taking one.
4. Paper and Pen
Don’t make the same mistake I did and show up without paper and a pen. Though I luckily found a booth giving away notepads and pens, it probably isn’t smart to rely solely on luck. Pack a paper and pen so you can take notes during talks, of things you both agree and disagree with, as well as write down contact information for anyone who doesn’t have business cards. Using your phone or laptop for note taking is distracting and can be perceived as rude. Plus, if your phone screen is cracked like mine (oops), then it can look unprofessional.
Business conventions often take place in high traffic areas - which means expensive, difficult parking. Plan ahead and try to carpool or take public transportation to the convention location.Save some money, save some gas, and let your parallel parking skills get rusty.
During the Conference
Make sure you know how you want to pitch yourself and your business. Your brand is an important determinant of whether potential clients and partners will remember you and want to work with you in the future. Pitch yourself in a way that emphasizes your passion, credibility and trustworthiness.
Business Card Table
Large business conventions often have a business card table set up. This table allows individuals and businesses to leave stacks of their business cards for others to look through and pick up. Find this table early on and drop off a few of your cards. Doing this is a great way to network without actually being present.
Leaving a Talk
Even if you choose the talks you want to attend ahead of time, you’re still bound to sit in on some that don’t spark your interest. Don’t feel bad if you aren’t enjoying a talk, and feel free to subtly leave the talk at any time. This can feel awkward and rude, but remember that you are at this event to learn and gain skills you need, so don’t waste precious time at a talk you don’t think is worthwhile.
One event that is usually offered is a simple speed networking activity. Speed networking often occurs in short chunks of time, with different groups rotating in and out during the different time slots. Though speed networking will likely put you into contact with a lot of businesses irrelevant to your own, the exercise is worth it for even one good contact.
After the Conference
Gather all of the contact information you gathered during the conference and put it in one place. Note next to their name what you talked about, what services they could provide you, and what services you could provide them. Remembering what you talked about can be a good conversation starter the next time you talk, and can also demonstrate to the individual that you valued the conversation enough to remember specific details. Furthermore, noting down the services you can provide each other is a great way to organize the contact information for current and future projects. Once you have finished taking notes, reach out to each new contact via email to thank them for the good conversation and to reestablish your interest in connecting with them. If you want to have another in-person meet-up, start setting that up in the email as well.
Whether you went with your business or just went alone, sitting down and reviewing the conference is extremely important. You should go over pros, cons, and lessons learned before you begin to forget the details. Keep your notes together so that you can reference them and learn from them as you move forward. For example, this blog post came from many of the notes FL+G took at the Denver Small Business Expo.
Takeaways and Advice from FL+G
Giving a Lecture
The first talk the FL+G team attended was a bit of a miss. The talk was general and lacked relevant advice, but most importantly, the “salesman” failed to sell himself to the audience as a credible, trustworthy source. An effective brand was not established, and many people started tuning out early on. Though the lecture appeared unhelpful at first, we reviewed our notes after the convention finished, and found that we learned some valuable lessons. Comparing the first and second lecturer that heard speak, we established some important guidelines for giving a successful lecture.
a. establish your brand: be credible, trustworthy, and memorable.
b. be specific: use specific examples and ask specific questions of your audience. Being vague reduces your credibility, as well as the likelihood of you providing useful information.
c. use activities: engage the audience in activities that prove your point. Activities that seem pointless or tedious will also eat away at your credibility, as well as your audience’s attention span.
I am an introvert by nature, but it is important to recognize that going outside your comfort zone is necessary in networking environments. Start up conversations with new people, reach out to familiar faces, ask for advice, and give advice. Be open to new ideas and new people because you never know what can come of a simple conversation.