A good conference can be inspiring, motivating, empowering, and a great learning experience for anyone, including entrepreneurs and small business owners. Sometimes that’s just what you need to get you from where you are now to where you want to be next. Conferences can be a great way for mom entrepreneurs to energize themselves and connect with others who have started or want to start their own businesses. Here are some tips on how to make the most out of your conference experience.
So you’ve made the commitment to attend, congratulations! Now it’s time to do some homework to prepare.
Set your goals
Spend some time determining what you ultimately hope to gain by attending the conference: new contacts, inspiration, advice, specific skills or tools, etc. Pick out the sessions that you think will be the most beneficial and decide on 2 – 3 tangible outcomes for the entire conference. Keep those goals in mind while you’re there and come back to them throughout the day.
Make sure you have enough business cards printed with your name, business and contact information including social media handles. Vistaprint is one online printing company that can supply them inexpensively in large quantities. Even if you don’t have your own business yet, you should have a card for networking. Consider putting some of your skills or interests on the card, like “writer, editor” or “travel enthusiast” to give others a first impression.
Perfect your elevator speech and have it memorized. The first 30 seconds of your interaction with someone are the most important. When someone asks, “what do you do?” you’ll want to have a great answer ready. Deborah Grayson Riegel’s post for Mom Gets A Business, reminds us to speak like a real person using common language that doesn’t sound rehearsed (even though it is). The point is not to talk about everything you do but to pique their interest enough to want to ask more.
Review the agenda ahead of time and identify which sessions you want to attend if there are multiple options. Look up the presenters and begin to follow them on Twitter. This will give you an idea of who they are and what they might talk about. This is a good time to jot down any questions you might like answered so you are prepared to ask them in the event they are not answered in the session.
Take notes. You might feel most comfortable taking notes on paper, but if you are bringing your laptop or iPad, you might want to download the free app Evernote for note taking so you can access and search through them later. After each session, highlight or write down one or two key ideas you learned. At the end of the day, review all of your notes and summarize important take-away items, especially the ones you can begin to use right away. Move that list to a place you’ll see it again or put the notes into a calendar item to review when you return to the “office.”
Ask questions! Presenters often leave time at the end of sessions for a question and answer period and they truly want you to ask them something. If you’re nervous, it’s perfectly ok to prepare in advance (which is why you’ve researched them ahead of time). Mom, Incorporated co-author Aliza Sherman is a big supporter of asking questions. “The benefits are two-fold,” she says, “If you state your name and what you do beforehand, it can be a fantastic form of ‘pre-networking’ because everyone in the room hears who you are, plus you get your question answered.”
Be social! While you are standing in line for your name badge or waiting for the next speaker to begin, introduce yourself to the person next to you. This is also a chance to have fun. Treat everyone you meet as a chance to learn something new, and don’t forget you have something to offer them as well. You will be meeting other people in similar situations so take the opportunity to share stories about your experiences.
If you make a connection with someone, exchange business cards with him or her. Write a note to yourself on the back of their card about what you talked about and any follow up actions (i.e. send link to company product, invite to post a guest blog, ask for vendor contact, etc.). Make sure you get one of their cards, too. If they don’t have one, you can always have them use the back of one of your cards. Aliza adds, “If you have a smartphone, take photos of the business cards as you collect them. Use an app like Evernote or even CardMunch from LinkedIn to help organize these new contacts.”
Don’t forget social media. Find out what hashtag people at the conference are using on Twitter, follow it and use it. You’ll see what key take-away points others are learning, find interesting people to follow and will even gain some new followers as well.
Take advantage of post-conference “glow” and do something productive. Review your notes and lists of action items. Write a blog post or share your newfound knowledge with your friends back home. Most importantly, follow up! Keep track of the contacts you made by sending them an email with a personal note, connecting on LinkedIn, or posting a shout out on Twitter thanking a presenter for something interesting you learned.
Even if you just get one or two great “nuggets” of information or make one strategic connection, if it ends up improving your business you can consider it a success.
Ho do you get the most out of a conference? What are some of your favorite tips and tools?
Annie Pearson is the Content and Community Manager for Mom, Incorporated. She can be found blogging on MomIncorporated.com and interviewing successful mom entrepreneurs for the “Moms with a Biz” series. She’s also on Twitter with @momincbook and personally as @evermovingmama.