Six Reasons Why You Should Absolutely, Positively, Unequivocally, For Surely Never Attend a Conference
- Jet lag
- Heavy suitcase
- Time spent away from family and friends
- Lousy food
None of the above are any of my six reasons. But all are true.
In fact, I’ve attended many conferences. And this year I’m attending six more. Am I a glutton for punishment? A lover of abuse? As a matter of fact … NO. I have never seen "Fifty Shades of Grey," and I don’t own whips or chains.
Then, why do I attend conferences?
I have had the privilege of listening to Colin Powell, David Cameron, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Sheryl Sandberg. I’ve met lots of incredible entrepreneurs and thought leaders. And I’ve made lifelong friends.
Conference attendance is a great way to procure new business. It allows me to get face time and visibility with prospects. It also helps me to identify new prospects and strategic partners. Finding companies that sell to the same executives and industries is beneficial and leads to referrals. Information gained at conferences helps me better identify trends and important industry changes.
Pre- and post-conference work can be time-consuming, but it’s well worth the effort. I spend the four-to-six weeks prior to a conference researching the speakers and attendees, finding their contact information and reaching out via email and LinkedIn to schedule appointments. For those whom I cannot connect with beforehand, I create a research document with each person’s biography. I include a picture and a fact so I can connect on a personal level. (e.g., We both grew up in Northern California or we both swim.) I print the data and bring it with me so I can identify people at the conference (yes, Millennials still use ink on paper).
I make my patented “Do Not Leave Until I Meet ” list. Then I stealthily hunt down each unsuspecting VIP (without appearing like a creepy stalker) and turn on the charm. I don’t leave the conference until every person on my little list has been sucked of every ounce of information I can get out of them. Wow! Sorry. I got a little carried away. Perhaps I am a bit abusive after all.
Each night, I send a personal note and LinkedIn invite request to each person I met during the day. I start following up the day after the conference ends. If I establish a personal relationship with someone, I send follow-up notes via text. Six reasons you should NOT attend a conference:
1. No previous-year attendee list: Request last year’s attendee list. If the organizer won’t provide it, don’t attend. It’s an indicator the conference was not well attended and/or did not have many decision makers.
2. No present-year attendee list: Request an updated copy of this year’s attendee list. Do this more than once. The majority of attendees sign up within six weeks leading up to a conference. Review the list carefully. Make sure the companies and attendees are optimal targets for your service and meet your prospect qualifications. Conferences should be used to procure big deals given the time and resources involved. Use the attendee list to reach out to the attendees and set a meeting time. Having a pre-set meeting time gives you time to establish purpose and ensures that you have allotted enough time to talk about your prospects’ needs. No list? Don’t go.
3. No BIG wigs: Review the attendee titles. I sell to chief procurement officers (CPOs). I need the decision maker to sign my contract and make the ultimate decision to outsource print buying. If a conference attracts many junior buyers, I won’t attend. Be very clear about to whom you sell, and if these people are not going to be at the conference, don’t go.
4. No common sponsors: I find five sponsors from the previous conference that sell to the same CPOs as I. I contact them and ask for 15 minutes on the phone. I ask a series of questions regarding the sponsor format and value. “How much did you pay to attend?” or “How much business will your company close?” If most of the sponsors I connect with aren’t planning to attend at all, it’s red-flag time; no conference for yours truly.
5. Lousy date: What are the conference dates? March through May and August through September are the best. Conferences held around the holidays (end of November and December) make follow up challenging. I find it difficult to get responses or commitments. I have received my share of “contact me in January” notes. Prospects have a tendency to forget faces and conversations after one or two months.
6. You’re stuck in a booth: Never attend a conference if you have to do a booth. Your goal is to bring in new business, not stand behind a desk and smile. Attend as a non-exhibitor. I don’t attend a conference if I’m required to man a booth. I get much more out of walking the halls, attending sessions and networking at breaks and meals. Running a booth is not a recipe for making new connections.
So, pack your sleeping pills, 5-hour ENERGY drink and Pepto Bismol. Lug that too-heavy suitcase, fight the traffic to and from (and in) the airport and say goodbye to your loved ones. It’s conference time. Have fun and be productive.
Sarah Scudder is the president of Procureit5, Dallas. Sarah, who is the youngest executive to ever have served on the Print Services and Distribution Association (PSDA) board, is the CEO and founder of the Young Innovators Group, focusing on innovation and how to attract, hire and retain young people in the print industry. She co-hosts a weekly radio show, Career Conversations, in which she interviews entrepreneurs, community leaders and people who have made major career advancements. Most recently, she was chief growth officer of The Sourcing Group.