Attending a marketing conference? 6 survival tips

Whether it's your first time attending a conference or you've had horror stories in the past, these tips will help you make the most of your experience.

colorado convention center
Kevin Williams (Creative Commons BY or BY-SA)

Conferences and conventions are popular in every area of business, but few industries have better quality conferences than marketing. Just run a quick online search of this year’s conferences and you’ll find a long list of quality events with stellar keynote speakers and awesome networking opportunities. But if you’ve never been to a large conference before, then you probably don’t know what to expect.

Six tips you need to survive and thrive

Survival may not seem like the best word for a marketing conference, but sometimes it’s the only word that can be used. Between the travel, a grueling schedule of sessions, and the need to constantly be “on” for networking purposes, your first experience at a marketing conference will be tiring. The key is to make smart choices and put yourself in a position that allows you to make the most out of the opportunity to surround yourself with industry leaders and immerse in cutting-edge curriculum.

How you prepare for a marketing conference will often determine the value you glean. That’s why most experts would suggest doing the following:

1. Do your research

The dumbest mistake conference attendees make is just showing up. While you technically aren’t required to do anything in advance of most marketing conferences, it’s smart to do some research and familiarize yourself with what will be happening. This will allow you to focus on being in the moment when you’re there, as opposed to fumbling through itineraries and agendas, trying to figure out what to do and where to go.

At most conferences, there are main sessions and breakout sessions. There are usually one or two main sessions per day, and everyone attends these. Then, you have the breakout sessions that occur throughout the day. Generally, you get to choose from a variety of subject matters and where you want to go. It’s a good idea to already have a game plan for which sessions you want to attend before you arrive.

2. Set some goals

Mindlessly attending a conference with no real purpose in mind isn’t a smart idea. The best thing you can do is set a few tangible goals for the conference. Here are a few examples:

  • I want to meet at least 10 different people who could potentially become candidates for some of our company’s job openings in the near future.
  • I want to learn at least two new social media lead generation tactics that we can apply to our current campaign to improve results.
  • I want to set up an interview with at least three different companies that are looking to hire a new marketing director within the next six months.

A lot of people show up to a conference with vague goals and then leave wondering why they didn’t get anything accomplished. If you want to see a return on your time, specific goals like these are the key.

3. Bring the right items

A football player wouldn’t show up to a game without his uniform, pads, and helmet. A band wouldn’t take the stage without their instruments. An artist wouldn’t attempt to paint without a full palette of colors. Why, then, would you show up to a conference without the things you need to be successful?

There are a bunch of things you’ll need, including necessities like notebooks, business cards, and pens. But it’s the less obvious things that are most important. Take a portable battery charger, for example. You rarely have time to go back to a room and charge your smartphone, tablet, or laptop in the middle of the day. By carrying a portable charger, you don’t ever have to worry about finding an outlet.

You may want to think even more outside the box, though. Entrepreneur Brett Farmiloe always goes to a local shoe store and buys a brand new pair of shoes to wear at every conference he attends.

“The louder the sneaker, the better,” Farmiloe explains. “Shoes are conversation starters, and people remember you as the guy with the fly new kicks (especially for a three-day conference). I’ve met some really interesting people just by wearing cool shoes, and I've stayed comfortable.”

4. Make travel as simple as possible

If you’re flying to the conference, the last thing you can afford is to have travel issues. Not only do you risk showing up late, but the added stress could throw you off your game. That’s why it’s important that you prepare for travel by making the process as simple as possible. Luggage Council has some pretty good advice:

  • If you decide to check your luggage, make sure you use a brightly colored luggage strap or tracking device (like Trunkster) so that you can keep tabs on your bag.
  • Even if you aren’t checking baggage, you need to show up to the airport on time. If you end up being one of the last to board a crowded flight, they may force you to check your bag at the gate. This forces you to wait at the baggage claim upon arrival.
  • Layovers are the worst. Not only do they extend your travel time, but they also increase the risk of missing a flight or losing luggage. Even if it means spending an extra $100, it’s well worth taking a direct flight to your destination.

While you can’t always prevent travel delays and issues, you can increase your chances of arriving on-time and stress-free by planning ahead.

5. Step out of your comfort zone

What comes to mind when someone starts talking about networking? If you’re like most people, you get a little uncomfortable. Well, a marketing conference is all about stepping out of your comfort zone and doing things that you wouldn’t at home.

Whenever you walk into a room, you should make it a point to talk to at least one person. Sometimes you’ll have natural opportunities to engage in conversation, while other times you’ll have to walk up to someone and introduce yourself. Force yourself to do it and you’ll be happy with the results.

6. Get some sleep

Make sure you plan on getting some sleep at the conference. With sessions often lasting from early in the morning to late at night, the last thing you can afford is to go out and grab drinks. It may seem like a good idea at the time, but you’ll regret it in the morning. Get as much sleep as possible and schedule a wake-up call to ensure you get up on time.

Jump right in

As you know from personal experience, the only way to truly learn about something is to jump in and get involved. You can read about something and have all of the book smarts in the world, but there’s no replacement for putting yourself in a new situation and learning how to respond.

While it may seem silly to someone who’s been to dozens of conferences in the past, attending your first large-scale marketing event can be intimidating. Make sure you reference the tips in this article and do your best to make the most of this opportunity to grow.

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