The LMA Annual Conference is the largest annual meeting of legal marketing and business professionals in the industry, where legal marketing professionals come together learn from each other, engage in peer-to-peer sharing, and network. It’s the kind of event where you learn new things just from talking to people in the halls.
As I get ready to attend and present at the 2019 LMA Annual Conference next week, I’ve been thinking about how to maximize my time away from the office (missing three full work days is stressful, especially when you work at a small firm like I do) and use the conference as an opportunity not only to learn and network, but also to build my professional brand.
Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your conference experience and time out of the office.
1. Download the LMA19 Conference App. First thing’s first – download the LMA19 app, which makes it very easy to build your personalized session agenda, connect with attendees, view the conference speakers, participate in live polling during sessions and access the conference room and exhibit hall floor plans. Visit lmaconference.com/app or search for 'LMA 2019' in the Apple or Google Play store.
2. Map Out Your Schedule in Advance. I don’t know about you, but I get overwhelmed at all of the programming options that LMA19 attendees have at any given time (six breakouts at once all day long!) and since it’s impossible to clone oneself so you can be in two places at once, each of us has some hard choices to make on which programs to attend.
So, take the time to really review the conference agenda in advance (it’s a great thing to do on the plane) so you can plan out the sessions you want to attend. Speaking of sessions, when it comes to choosing them, this year, try something different and step outside of your comfort zone. As a communications person, I’ve usually gravitated toward the social media/content sessions. This year I’m going to attend programs that aren’t in my wheelhouse to help expand my skillset and gain valuable perspective. I encourage you do the same.
3. Make a Connections Plan. Using the LMA Conference app, review the attendee list in advance (like right now) and identify the people you want to get to know better. Use LinkedIn to see who you know in common if you aren’t already connected. Reach out to them either through the chat feature in the conference app or through social media.
...strengthen your relationships with service providers, who are key to the success of so many of our projects
4. Get the Lay of the Land. LMA19 is being held at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, and if it's anything like years past, much of your time can be spent trying to find where you’re supposed to be when you’re actually supposed to be there (i.e. walking up and down the never-ending escalators or football field-like hotel hallways). I highly recommend taking time when you first arrive to figure out where the key locations are (does Starbucks count as a key location? It does to me!). This will help you be more efficient and, as a bonus, you’ll be able to help others find their way around the venue, which can give you an instant conversation starter with new people you meet at the conference.
5. The Exhibit Hall is the Place to Be. The exhibit hall is the nucleus of LMA19 conference (and every conference for that matter), it is the home base of all the service providers throughout the conference and where many of the networking and food breaks are held. Not only should you go there because they have food and coffee, but because it’s a great place to meet up with others, network and to learn about innovative products, services and tools in our industry. You can also strengthen your relationships with service providers, who are key to the success of so many of our projects. The conference app has a handy map that shows where each exhibitor is located so you can plot out the booths you want to visit. 2019 LMA president Cynthia Voth wrote a terrific article on why you should invest time in visiting the exhibit hall that you should read.
Make it your mission to separate from your colleagues and LMA regulars and commit to meeting new people.
6. Be Friendly. If you really want to “work a room” and build your professional network, it’s so important to not just hang out with the same people at the LMA conference year after year. Make it your mission to separate from your colleagues and LMA regulars and commit to meeting new people. One caveat: don’t spend too much time talking to any one person at the networking events. You can politely excuse yourself after about 5-10 minutes so that you can get to know as many new people as possible.
7. Become Active on Social Media. While so many of the important interactions at LMA19 are of course happening in person and face to face but there’s an equal amount of online interactions happening on social media, and you don’t want to miss them. Plus, the social media content is great to revisit later so you can catch up on conference insights that you missed. Plus, there are many legal marketers who could not be at the conference in person who are following social media to learn more from the event, so why not become one of the thought leaders yourself? You can easily follow people by searching the LMA19 hashtag (#LMA19) and retweet and like the posts that resonate most with you. Take it one step further and as you are sitting in sessions, post your conference insights on Twitter and LinkedIn (but please also always post an image to accompany your post so that it stands out more – here’s how).
8. Bring a Sweater (and Sensible Conference Shoes)! Hotel meeting rooms can get so cold that only a penguin would find them appealing, so it’s a really good idea to bring a sweater or a blazer with you for those arctic-like temperatures. Also, for women, comfortable shoes are always a good idea. A few years ago at a past LMA Annual Conference, I had the bad luck of being given a hotel room that was literally a football field away from the elevator and when I realized I had forgotten my phone in my room and had to go all the way back to get it, I was not too happy with myself for wearing 4-inch heels. Sensible conference shoes are now a must.
put your phone away...
9. Be Social. We know a lot of attendees use the networking breaks and social event time to catch up on work or to explore the city. But it’s really in your best interest to make the time to attend as many of the conference’s social events as you can. They’re a great opportunity to connect with people in a more relaxed setting.
10. Put Your Phone Away and Stay Present. Although you may be thinking: “But I have so many emails!” or “I thought you said I need to tweet about the event?” But here’s the thing: You’re at LMA19 to interact with people in-person, most of whom you only get to see once each year. In addition, your firm is paying a hefty sum for you to be at this conference so you should really be present and immerse yourself in the content as much as you can. Don’t let your smartphone be a barrier to facilitating connections or keeping you from paying attention in the sessions. So, while you don’t have to completely disconnect, put your phone away when you’re waiting for a session to begin or during the sessions or the networking breaks to give yourself the opportunity to strike up conversations with other attendees.
11. Become a Thought Leader. A great way to build your brand and professional network and establish yourself as a subject matter expert is by writing about your conference experience.
Legal marketers are so lucky to have platforms that will publish our content like JD Supra, just like I’m doing here! Some ideas:
Reach out to speakers in advance and collect tips from their presentations to help boost attendance at their sessions. When you arrive, use your smartphone and transcription tool Temi to conduct interviews of speakers and industry leaders. Capture tips on video from attendees and compile into a video, podcast or written piece. Visit exhibitor booths and ask them a question and compile all the answers into a story highlighting trends. Use social media visuals to bring those trends to life. You could also survey attendees on their favorite takeaway/insight from the conference and turn into a compilation of soundbites. If you have your own blog, publish short pieces throughout the conference and then turn those posts into a longer-form article when you return home. Create content that focuses on the top takeaways/insights from the sessions that resonated the most with you. Always think about how the topics at the conference impact you and your audience.
12. Bring Business Cards. For the raffles, of course! But please try to use LinkedIn for networking. If you must exchange business cards with someone, please only do it for recall purposes of connecting with them on LinkedIn. (Can you tell that I'm not a fan of business cards anymore?) Make sure to send them a LinkedIn request soon after meeting them but not immediately afterwards, or else you run the risk of looking a little cuckoo. Also, follow them on Twitter and add them to a Twitter list for the event.
13. Be Your Best Professional Self. I must say this because unfortunately it happens every year, but please don’t drink too much, don’t party too much and don’t stay up too late. Remember that most of you are at LMA19 on your firm’s time and dime, and you’re going to be front and center with many important industry colleagues who could one day hire you or refer you for work, so please always present your best professional self. In this super-connected social media world, you just never know.
14. Seize the Opportunity. If certain speakers resonated with you or inspired you, take the opportunity to email them or send a personal note on LinkedIn and tell them why. This type of gesture is a great way to build relationships, add valuable contacts to your network and potentially even gain a mentor. Always remember that genuine compliments can lead to stronger relationships with those individuals who you aspire to get to know better.
15. Pay it Forward with a Conference Post-Mortem. You are going to learn a lot at LMA19, and one of the best things you can do with this information is to share it with your co-workers, colleagues and friends who were unable to attend the conference. You’ll also want to show your firm and boss how thankful you are that they sent you to the conference. One way you can do that and bring your learnings back to your firm is by doing a post-conference review of the information you learned and people you met along with key takeaways. Take a version of it and create a PowerPoint presentation to present at a brown bag lunch. Invite some of the lawyers who are most engaged in marketing as well. Sharing what you learned will also help to elevate your internal brand as a thought leader.
16. Be Honest. Finally, one of the most valuable things you can do after attending #LMA19 is to provide honest feedback about your experience. In the app, you’ll see a place to provide session feedback for each program – use it! You’ll also receive a more in-depth follow-up survey from the LMA by email shortly after the conference – be sure to complete it. In addition, the LMA is always happy to accept feedback from its members by email, regular mail, in person, carrier pigeon, you name it. Think about your overall experience, beforehand and during. How was the flow of information? Was the check-in process easy? What did you think of the keynote speaker? How would you rate the GC panel? Were there enough sessions that interested you? Did anything fail to live up to your expectations? Your honest feedback will help to enhance the LMA experience for you and your fellow attendees next year.
As I sit here writing this and getting excited to see all of my LMA friends and to present a workshop session on Wednesday, April 10 at 1:30pm on “Beyond Branding: Aligning Social Media Strategy With Business Development Goals” with Jennifer Simpson Carr (I hope you’ll join us, you can learn about our session here), I encourage you to think of every professional activity – such as attending a conference – as a way to build your brand. You can make so much more of each opportunity you have if you just make the time for it and are more thoughtful in your approach. Yes it requires work, but it’s worth it. Doing so will enable you to shine brighter.
I’ll see y’all in Atlanta!
[Stefanie Marrone helps law firms effectively tell their stories and find their unique voices. Over the last 17 years, she has worked with some of the most prominent and innovative law firms in the world, developing and executing global revenue generating business development and communications strategies. She is very passionate about helping lawyers and law firms effectively use social media for lead generation and brand building. She has a diverse range of experience in both Big Law and mid-size-/small-law firms. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her latest writing on JD Supra as well as her blog The Social Media Butterfly.]