13 Best Practices for Attending Conferences

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There are only a few weeks left in the year, and although conferences are winding down, you may be planning your 2020 calendar already (or getting in a few last networking opportunities!). Even when you’re an old hand at attending events, we can always use a refresher on tips for attending events and how to make the most of the networking opportunities they present. Here are some quick tips for making the most out of your attendance! 

  • Review the agenda: It will give you an idea of what topics will be discussed, and where you may be able to contribute. If there are discussions that you may have some expertise in (or questions for!), it can help people to identify you with a certain area of expertise, and make you a thought leader who is sought out later for conversations. It also makes you easier to remember. Bonus: It can also position you with conference organizers for future speaking opportunities. An important note though – don’t monopolize the conversation or talk over others; that will have the opposite effect of what you’re looking to achieve.
  • Review the attendee list, if available: Organizers may provide it directly, or there may be an app you can log into and see who else is attending. Identify who you may want to build a relationship with, and try to connect with them in advance. Reach out to them through the app or on LinkedIn and let them know that you want to make sure to meet in person at the event – schedule something firm, because casual attempts often fail as conferences get very hectic.
  • Identify colleagues who are attending: Are any of your partners attending the event as well? Coordinate, divide and conquer. What are your goals for the event? Like any business development initiative, you can’t go to a conference with your fingers crossed, and hope something sticks. You want to identify who may have business for you, who may be able to refer you work, and which people you want to meet and build relationships with. Be strategic about setting up meetings or connecting with particular individuals.
  • Engage in social media: If you’re on Twitter, find out whether there is a conference hashtag that you can follow to see if anyone is already tweeting about attending the conference. Connect with them in advance to see if they may be in your target market. Get involved in LinkedIn and find out whether conference organizers have set up a group for the conference. Start asking questions and connecting with people in the group who will be there – it’s like pre-building your relationships. Reach out to speakers whose sessions you’ll be attending to get on their radar before everyone else starts connecting with them.
  • Attend everything: I say this often, and that’s because it bears repeating. You may think that some events are silly or not worthwhile, but every event held by a conference organizer is an opportunity for networking. I can attest that some great networking and business development happens over meals and even social events – I’ve seen lawyers bond over feeding giraffes at an animal park. You never know when you’re going to make just the right connection that leads to a wonderful relationship that will benefit you professionally.
  • Separate from your travel companions/colleagues: I know it can be more comfortable to spend time with the people you already know, but if you’re only chatting to other attorneys from your firm the entire time you’re at a conference, you’re not networking. Meet someone new, sit down at an unfamiliar table at lunch, put your hand out to the guy in the corner checking his iPhone. Be social. If conferences were only about the content, we could all stay home and connect online.
  • Participate in the business sessions actively: We mentioned this already, but really listen and participate in the conference sessions. I know lawyers are often multitasking with client work, but when you can, really pay attention to what’s being share. Ask questions and see where you can share your own experience and expertise. It enriches your conference experience and that of your fellow delegates. It gives people a reason to remember you, and want to give you work. It also helps people to remember you as more than just a face at an event.

We tend to forget conference follow-up more than any other conference activity in the bustle of getting back to work and catching up, but it may arguably be some of the most important networking work you’ll do.

  • Connect on LinkedIn: Reach out to anyone you met in person on LinkedIn, and be sure to add a personalized note that reminds them of how you connected (since they likely met several people). Then you’re able to use LinkedIn in between events and meetings to keep up on what articles they’re reading, what status updates they’re posting and who they’re connected to that might be of interest to you.
  • Go through your notes from the conference about what you’ve learned and your key takeaways, and share these with the other members of your firm. It emphasizes the value of your attendance at the event, and can also remind your colleagues of the type of work that you do, and how they may be able to pass along work to you as well. Bonus: write these notes up in the form of a blog post that you can share either in your own blog (if you have one) or on LinkedIn. Your new LinkedIn connections from the event will be inclined to like and comment on it.
  • Send a handwritten note to those you’ve met: I’ve done this post-conference, along with photos I’ve taken from conferences, and others have done this for me, and it’s had a TREMENDOUS impact on my relationships. It sounds like a lot of work (and it is), but if you’re looking for a small way to make a huge impact, I really recommend it – let them know how much you enjoyed meeting them, and that you look forward to seeing them in the future. Relationships matter, and a handwritten note illustrates that.
  • Take a look at your calendar: We all travel so much these days, so take a look at your upcoming travel and figure out who you may know in the cities that you’re visiting. LinkedIn really helps with this, because you can do a quick search of the city that you’ll be in, and reach out to the people you know there. It’s tough to take take out of your schedule, especially when visiting clients, but even just meeting someone for coffee can continue the relationship that you’ve started.
  • Follow up with an email: If you haven’t sent out your handwritten note, you can follow up with an email to the people that you’ve met. Share with them an article they may find of interest, or reference a joke that you both laughed at during the conference.
  • Share photos: People love to see themselves in pictures. Don’t deny it, it’s true. These days, we all have a camera in our pockets, so if you’ve snapped a great or funny shot of someone, shoot them an email with the photo – it will mean a lot to them.

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