For the next 5 months we'll be running a series of posts on preparing to attend a blog conference. Whether or not you're attending FBC2014 or not, we hope these tips will help you prepare for any conference you might attend!
Wallflowers quiver and extroverts rejoice. FBC 2014 is fast approaching! Even with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Google Plus showcasing our posts, pictures, and pithy quotes, you really do need to step away from the electronics and let people meet the person behind the avatar. Conferences provide the perfect networking opportunity, providing you’re willing to do a bit of work.
Here are some before, during and after tips to make sure you make the most of your conference time and money:
Networking Before You Arrive At A Conference:
1. Know who’s attending.
Most conferences provide a list of attendees, speakers and brands. Follow attendees and brands on the social media platforms you use regularly. If the conference has a Twitter list, subscribe (here's the official FBC2014 Twitter list!) If not, create your own. Software like TweetDeck or HootSuite are perfect for dedicated feeds for lists or conference hashtags.
2. Be picky, not snobby.
You won’t be able to meet everyone, so pick a few “Must Meets.” Don’t be afraid to reach out and introduce yourself. If you want to meet for coffee at the conference, arrange this privately. Public hook-ups can inadvertently make other attendees feel excluded.
3. Play detective.
Do some research on the attendees and brands. Check out their blogs, Instagram feeds and other platforms. Are they a good fit for you? Think of ways you can work together, whether it’s for fun or profit.
4. Order updated business cards.
Don’t clutter the card with ALL your contact information. Do they need your mailing address? When it comes to social media, include the two platforms you use the most or to best effect. Be sure to pack the business cards in your carry-on. I recently attended a conference where a speaker sheepishly distributed hand cut cards printed on regular paper. She made them late the night before at the hotel’s business centre. Her checked luggage was broken into, and guess what the theives stole?
5. Book your stay at the conference hotel.
FBC 2014 includes onsite accommodation, but most conferences leave you to book your own room. Bargain hunters and couch surfers can easily spending their savings — and valuable networking time — taxiing across town. Staying at the conference hotel not only allows you more face-time, it reduces stress. Forgot your charger in your room? No problem! Spilled lunch? A change of clothes is an elevator ride away.
**Brands are people too!
When doing your research on attendees, don’t just blindly “like” or “follow” the brands. Reach out to the reps and engage with them.
- Add colour to Blogger Beige. What’s your niche? What sets you apart? What’s your approach? “I’m a food writer and recipe developer who specializes in approachable, doable, delicious food. I put the fun back in delicious.” Prepare your elevator speech. Practice it until it no longer sounds like an infomercial. It takes time.
- Create your Media Kit and put a downloadable version on your blog or website. If you already have one, update it with the latest stats and credits.
Networking While You're At A Conference
1. Don’t be shy
Put all that research to work and find a genuine way to engage with other attendees. When you introduce yourself, give your name, your blog’s name and if possible your most recent interaction with the person. “Hi. I’m Charmian Christie. I write The Messy Baker. I loved your Instagram photo on blueberry tarts last week.” They will remember you for remembering them. If you’re meeting someone you haven’t connected with online, open with a question. What session are they most looking forward to? What is their stance on kale / quinoa / food trucks? Is this their first conference? A veteran conference-going friend knows how intimidating conferences can be and makes it a point to identify and invite a first-time attendee to dine with her group.
2. Reach out and touch someone.
Never underestimate the power of a good handshake. Don’t give the dead fish handshake or crush their hands. Practice with friends if you’re not sure how you come across. Of course, hugs are great, too, but you usually have to work up to them.
3. Bring an extra power cord.
Bring an extra power cord and offer it when you see someone in need.You might make a new friend.
4. Put the electronics away during breaks
It’s fine to tweet pithy quotes from a panel discussion or Instagram selfies with fellow bloggers, but don’t check your email or play Words with Friends – even if it is your move and you have a doozie. Use this time to connect with the people in the room.
5. It’s better to receive than give
It’s better to receive than give — when it comes to business cards. Collect as many if not more than you give. When you get a business card, don’t just stick it in your pocket. LOOK at it. Once back in your room, make notes on it about the person — “Great laugh.” “Leant me phone charger.” These will jog your memory when you enter them later.
**Brands are people too!
It’s worth repeating. You can get all the facts and figures from the corporate brochure. Real insight and connection comes from the person handing you that brochure.
- Ask personal questions (but not too personal). If they sell cookware, what pan do they use the most and what to do they make with it? (David Leite’s Orange Olive Oil Cake can only be made in the Nordicware 12-cup bundt.)
- Ask not what the brand can do for you; ask what you can do for the brand. Are there gaps in their coverage they are looking to fill? Is there a social media platform that isn’t taking off for some reason?
Networking After a Conference
The conference doesn’t end with the closing cocktail party or farewell lunch. There is homework. Again. Always.
1. Enter All Your Business Cards
Enter all business cards you collected. You can do this once you’re home or while you wait in the airport lounge. To locate attendees easily, create a group, keyword or tag. While you’re at it, add them to Twitter lists, connect on LinkedIn, put them in Google+ circles and/or follow them on Instagram. Make it easy to connect with again.
2. Follow up.
Don’t send a generic email. Make your note personal and offer to connect again soon. Will you see them on Twitter in a post-conference shout out? Did you talk about a recipe exchange? Can you meet for lunch? If you’re asking follow-up questions to a presenter, use the title of their presentation as the subject line to get their attention.
**Brands are people, too!
Don’t open with a pitch. Thank them for taking the time to talk with you, or lament that you didn’t have time to have coffee as planned. Did you like the swag? If so, tell them. If you didn’t? Keep it to yourself. Attach your media kit and close with an offer to talk once you’ve tried out the swag. Then do so. With ideas.
Before, During and After a Conference
Even if your business cards get stolen, your elevator speech escapes you, and your iPhone dies, you can still make a positive impression by simply putting yourself out there and engaging in genuine conversations with your fellow attendees.
Networking Face to Face in An On-line World was written by Charmian Christie. Charmian’s first cookbook, The Messy Baker: More than 75 Delicious Recipes from a Real Kitchen hits the shelves this August. A seasoned conference goer, she’s turned forgotten business cards, a dead cell phone and smashed iPad into a conversation opener to meet new people.