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13 Ways to Make Sure You Get Your Money’s Worth from Your Next Conference

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conference session Have you ever been to an industry conference where you ponied up as much as a thousand dollars or more and the conference really sucked? Can I tell you something? Now, this may sting a little bit so do yourself a favor and strap on your big boy or girl pants and get ready. If it sucked, it was all your fault.

I know, I know. You didn’t book the speakers or schedule the keynotes. You weren’t in charge of the venue. You didn’t choose the subject matter. In fact, other than buying a ticket and showing up with your iPad and your fired up Twitter account, you had nothing to do with it, right?

Exactly my point.

I don’t care how much it cost you, how many people were there, where it was located, what venue it was in, who was speaking or what company it was run by. The success of that event for you is in direct proportion with the effort you put into it.

Here are the facts. You are thrown into a room with speakers that are oozing value and want to share it with you. Attendees that are there to learn are also scouring the place looking to meet new people within their industry. Vendors are paying a lot of money for a mere few minutes of your time just to show you what they do.

There are opportunities everywhere. If you missed them, you blew it.

But you don’t have to blow it next time. That’s what this article is about. It’s 13 of the best little bits of advice I have to give you to make sure your next conference is an overwhelming success. Whether I am there as an attendee or a speaker this is the mindset I have when I walk into that room. And this is why I always leave with more value than anyone else there. It works. Trust me.

1. Bring 25 Business Cards with You Each Day

No more. No less. I know this goes against conventional wisdom which states that you should bring two for every person within a 25 mile radius of the convention hall. Don’t. If you bring a lot of cards you are going to want to give them all out. That’s when you become that guy. You know that guy. The one handing out business cards as if he was dealing blackjack. Nobody likes that guy. Nobody respects that guy. And nobody remembers that guy. By bringing only 25 cards you are forced to seek out and create 25 quality relationships throughout each day. That means spending more than just a few minutes with someone. It means really discovering who they are. It means telling them something interesting about yourself instead of attempting to sell them. This is called building a relationship. Wouldn’t you rather have 25 new friends instead of 1,000 less business cards?

2. Eat Lunch in the Conference Center

I don’t care if you bring your lunch or go out and get something and bring it back. There is no eating outside of the convention center. Even if it’s a nice day. You aren’t likely to find a small empty table with one chair or a quiet corner that nobody else knows about inside which means you are going to have to sit with a bunch of strangers. It’s a great opportunity to stretch outside of your comfort zone and build a few new relationships.

3. Be Friends with the Ushers that Check You in at the Door.

You know those folks that stand in front of the door to check you in to each track? Well, believe it or not they are human beings! And they have cool stuff like feelings and personalities! Get to know each of them…sincerely. Be nice to them. Joke around with them. Have a little fun with them. Make them smile. The benefit? You will meet some nice people. And there may be a time or two where you are let in early or allowed into a sold out track while everyone else is turned away. Hey, friends hook each other up. Just be sincere. Like most people, they can smell a skunk a mile away.

4. Sit in the Front Row

If this were a concert you would knock over women and children to get to the front row. Yet at a conference, you tend to find the “safe” seat. The one towards the back with easy access to the exit. Instead, force yourself to sit in the front row for each track. Sitting in the front row assures that you aren’t going to drift into lala land, check your e-mail, play Angry Birds or partake in a host of other attention stealers while the speaker is talking. You have no choice but to be totally present. An active listener. You know…the reason you came here in the first place.

5. Clear Your Entire Schedule for the Week

A lot of stuff goes on during the week of the conference. Parties, keynotes and various after hours hangouts are as much a part of the conference as the tracks themselves. I once missed a really good keynote and networking party because I booked a speaking engagement well after the last track not realizing there would be some cool after hours stuff going on. I missed out. Trust me, it’s better to just clear your entire schedule and make room for anything that might come along.

6. Schedule Your Sessions One Day in Advance

The night before the first day, read through every track on the schedule. You can usually find them posted on the conference website. If not, get there at least an hour early. Pick the top two tracks you want to attend in each time slot for the first day only. Put them on your calendar by adding a 1 for your first choice and a 2 for your second. Make sure you include the track name, speaker and room number as well. If for some reason you either don’t like the track, it was cancelled or the room is full, head over to your second choice. At the end of the day just repeat by creating your schedule for the next day. Just be sure to only schedule one day at a time in case you catch a new speaker or subject matter that you now want to check out the next day.

7. Be the First to Ask a Question

Most tracks end in a Q&A session which tends to result in a blown opportunity for a majority of the room. I don’t get it. The speaker is likely someone that you have been hounding on Twitter for months in an attempt to get their attention and yet now that you have it the little voice in your head tells you not to get up and ask. Don’t listen. Being the first to ask a question gives you an opportunity to introduce yourself not only to the speaker but to a room full of like-minded people. If that doesn’t sell you, this might. A speaker’s biggest fear is that uncomfortable silence that comes after asking for questions and no one jumps out of their chair. A lot of speakers tend to reward those brave souls that step up first by giving away copies of their book or free admission into their programs. Free stuff is awesome.

8. Seek Out the People Running the Conference

Get to know the people behind the curtain. They are usually pretty awesome. Sometimes not, but in my experience, pretty awesome covers it. The reason I am writing this post is because I got to know a few of the people that ran BlogWorld and grew to really like them. I get the feeling that I’m one of their favorite people in the whole wide world as well. (The previous statement cannot be confirmed or denied at this time.) The only thing I would caution you with here is not to get to know them with the expectation of getting something in return. Life doesn’t work that way. Get to know them because they are cool people with a cool job. If you get some insight or a foot in the door along the way make sure that it is because they recognized that you have a lot of value to offer. Not because you’re a suck-up.

9. Don’t Tweet During the Tracks

I know this is not a very popular one. Sorry. I’ve watched too many people come to these things and stare at their Twitter screen waiting for the speaker to say something profound. And then spend the next few minutes trying to figure out a clever way to cram it into 140 characters. Ultimately they end up missing a bunch of other stuff that gets said in the meantime. Stop. Take good notes instead. Write down the good quotes and then during a break you can Tweet away. Sure, you may not be as timely as some others but more importantly you didn’t miss anything. Ultimately that’s what counts! Your Tweet only lasts for a few minutes. The knowledge you pick up by actually paying attention can last a heck of a lot longer.

10. Follow Each Speaker on Twitter

After each track, make sure you are following the speaker on Twitter and give them a shout out. Thank them by pointing out one solid thing that you picked up from them. First, it’s a nice thing to do. The speaker likes to know that they have reached their audience. Second, it’s a good way to get on their radar. Bonus points if you asked them a question during the Q&A so they recognize you when you Tweet them!

11. Visit and Speak with Every Single Vendor

The majority of these conferences have an area set aside for vendors to have a booth and pitch their wares. Most of us tend to stop by the booths with the best swag. But you’re not most people. Not anymore. Rather than just roaming around and stopping at one or two vendors, start at the beginning and visit each one. Don’t stop until you have talked to every single vendor. It will give you a chance to see what other companies are doing. Who knows, you might even find some synergy with a company that you normally would never have come across. Heck, you might even meet some cool people. And if all else fails, you’ll end up with a new wardrobe of free t-shirts and squeezy balls with someone else’s logo on it.

12. Get Yourself Interviewed

Often times you will see folks with cameras or podcasts looking to interview speakers and attendees. Pretty much anyone with half of a personality. Do whatever you can to get in front of them to be interviewed. I know, you aren’t camera material. Even more reason to get out there. It’s a great opportunity to practice being interviewed. It may even turn into a good promo piece for you! Free promotion! And who is going to turn down free promotion!?!?

13. Shut Off Any Work Related Stuff

Leading up to the conference make sure that you have any necessary systems in place that allow you to leave work behind for a few days. Don’t waste the time in between tracks distracted by work related e-mail or calls unless it’s an emergency. That time should be spent networking, visiting the vendors, going to the book signings, talking to speakers, meeting the people running the conference and all of the other stuff we have been talking about up until now. It’s a great opportunity and it’s only around for a few short days. Use your time wisely.

The easy part is done. Now comes the hard part. Actually doing it. Regardless of whether you are a newbie or an old pro at attending conferences, I challenge you to take each of these on and see what kind of results you get at your next conference.

Do you have any tips that help make the conferences you attend a big success? If so, leave them in the comments below and let’s keep the conversation going!

How Will People Remember You?

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This may be my first year going to BlogWorld Expo, but if my experience at other conferences hold true, it’s going to fly by faster than anyone can keep up. Before you know it, we’ll all be writing wrap-up posts and connecting to people we’ve met via Twitter. Well, maybe. The sad fact is that most people will come home with dozens, even hundreds of business cards. Some may sit down and add everyone on Twitter, but others? Well, they’re only going to add and connect with people they remember.

Will people remember you?

BlogWorld will be a sea of people, most of which probably look similar to you. I’m hoping that people will remember my pink hair, but nothing about your looks is a guarantee that someone will remember you, at least enough to connect you to a name on your business card. It’s about your interaction. You might be well-prepared with a pen to write down information on the back of cards, but not everyone does that. So how do you make an impression?

  • Make eye contact when you say your name. Sometimes, that helps it click in someone’s mind later.
  • Have a conversation, not just a sales pitch. Yes, you want someone to visit your site, but there’s thousands of people who are pitching stuff. Have an actual conversation with the other person. It means you have less time to meet people overall, but I’ll take 10 strong connections over 100 weak connections any day. Your conversation doesn’t even have to be about blogging – personal (but professional) is good too.
  • Throw our some collaboration ideas. If someone has a similar site, it could be easy to exchange guest posts, or even if your sites are only slightly related, you might be able to combine efforts on a project. Give someone a reason to remember other than “their site sounds cool.”
  • Be prepared to reach out after BlogWorld. Take the first step in saying how nice it was to meet them, and avoid sending a form email if possible. Reference your conversation.
  • Take a picture. Post it on your blog, along with the person’s name and a link back to their site.

Above all, remember that not every impression is a good impression. I’ve heard horror stories of people getting drunk and hitting on (married! eek!) bloggers, trying to use a popular blogger to advance their own career without actually giving anything in return, trying to seek in without a badge, etc. You want people to remember you – but for the right reasons!

Avoiding Event Burnout

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People who know me know that I’m a planner, sometimes to the point of obsession. I love to be spontaneous, but I’m a big believer that you can’t do something unplanned if you don’t have an original plan to start.

I’m well aware that most people don’t have me level of anal retentiveness when it comes to making plans. That’s ok. It’s probably even healthy. If nothing else though, make sure you plan one thing while at BlogWorld: Downtime.

While I haven’t attended BlogWorld in the past, I’m not a complete event newbie. No matter what the conference, show, convention, expo, etc., there will always be more to do than you can possibly fit into the time you have. You want to see everything on the show floor. You want to go to every panel. You want to meet and greet with every speaker. And, of course, you want to blog about it all.

I completely understand. I feel the same way.

Yet trying to do everything will only leave you with two feelings. First, you’ll feel overwhelmed. Then, when you figure out that you can’t do everything, you’ll feel like a failure.

What I’d like to suggest is that you actively plan some downtime for yourself to prevent this kind of burnout. Maybe you order room service one night and relax with a bath before heading out to evening activities. Maybe you wake up a hour early and enjoy the paper and a cup of coffee by yourself. Maybe you book a massage while in Vegas and take the time to enjoy pampering yourself for an hour or two.

The point is this: you need some alone time to chill out.

The result? You’ll be more relaxed, seeming less frazzled as you network. Your mind will calm down, making it easier to remember names, appoint times, and other information. You’ll be able to more quickly write posts, since it will be easier to concentrate.

You can’t do everything while at BlogWorld, and no one expects you to (except maybe you!). The key is to what what you can do exceedingly well. You’ll get more out of any event if you focus on excellent in a few things instead of doing everything you possibly can.

I recommend trying to fit in at least an hour of alone time every day while you’re in Vegas. I know that it might now always be possible, so grab what you can – 15 minutes here, 20 minutes there. Just remind yourself that it is ok to skip some events so you have time to cool down. Burnout will only mean that you don’t take full advantage of your trip.

How will you make sure you get time for yourself while at BlogWorld?

Do You Want to Date my Avatar?

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A set-up to this video, if you aren’t a major geek like me: The Guild is a web series about a group of socially-awkward people who play a role-playing game together online. It tells the story of how they went from being online-only friends to friends in real life.

I have a point to make here, I promise, though it’s always a good day when I can write a post that references one of the totally geeky things I love, like The Guild.

The whole show centers around how weird it is to take online relationships to the real world. It’s something that’s definitely a concern for bloggers, just like it was a concern for the online gamers in this show. You might love to “date” my avatar, but will you love me in real life too? That is, you may love the blogger personality on my website, but the real me is…complicated.

And that’s true of anyone, no matter how “real” you are with your readers. Someone who visits your blog only gets to see a certain side of you. You could be the most open and honest blogger in the world, but until you have face-to-face interaction with readers, they’re only dating your avatar.

While you can be a very successful blogger with just an avatar connection to readers, what I want you to take away from this post is the fact that you’re going to make a much, much stronger connection to people if you get out there and do some face-to-face networking. If BlogWorld isn’t a possibility for you this year, start small with local business groups or smaller events that are in your budget. Just get out there and meet people in any way you can!

A great way to transition into this is to do some consulting or webinars with your readers. You’re still behind a computer screen, but you’re actually talking to people, so it feels more “real life.” The goal here is to get people to know you. I always feel more connected to people who have offered webinars in the past. They’re just more real to me. Videos do the same thing, so if you’re comfortable talking to your webcam, do some recordings instead of only posting text.

The line from that video that I think is most important is:

If you think that I’m not the one, log off, log off, and we’ll be done.

That’s exactly what happens when you’re nothing more than an avatar to people. With no real-world connection, it’s harder for someone to remember you. It’s pretty easy for me to say, “Meh, I don’t have time to read Blog X today, so I’ll just skip it. Maybe tomorrow.” When I feel like I know the person though, either through a real-life connection or through their videos and webinars, I feel…well, almost obligated to support them through reading their blog posts or buying their products. I’m in their circle of friends.

That’s how you want you readers to feel – like they’re in your circle of friends. It’s impossible to have a deep personal connection with every single reader, but do what you can to be approachable and available in real life. Sure, I’ll date your avatar…but I want a long-term commitment with someone real, not a figurehead.

Covering Red Carpet Events For Your Entertainment Blog

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One of the best ways to get a ton of great content and get your blog noticed, is to get involved as press on a red carpet event. Whether you’re covering a movie premiere in your city, or an award show in Los Angeles, you’re bound to get amazing interviews and unique content that will drive viewers to your blog. I’ve been to several award shows (MTV Movie Awards, Teen Choice Awards, etc) and have some tips and tricks for covering red carpet events for your entertainment blog!

Before the Event:

  • Apply for a Press Pass. This is a must. You can’t just show up at the event! Most events allow for press applications a couple months before the show airs. For instance, I just applied for an MTV Video Music Awards pass and the event isn’t until September! If you’re searching for awards shows, you can pretty much just Google the show + press and you’ll be directed to the press site. I put together a calendar of events I want to attend, and start searching early. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get accepted, and don’t reach for the stars! There are so many bloggers applying for passes, the events are starting to get picky.
  • Ask for a Talent List: Most venues provide this, but if they don’t, ASK! This will give you an idea of who they expect to walk the red carpet, and you can make to research the talent in advance and …
  • Put Together a List of Questions: Come with a cheat sheet! And try to be original. All the other interviewers will be asking who the celebs are looking forward to seeing, are they excited to be there, and what are they wearing? Instead ask questions that your audience will want to hear/read. Be original and forward thinking. And try to ask several of the celebrities the same question so you can edit it together as a montage. Sometimes you’ll only get to call out a question to a celeb in passing – not enough for it’s own interview, but you can group their responses (thrown casually over a shoulder) with others.
  • Charge Your Batteries. You’ll probably be bringing your video camera and (if you’re lucky to be able to use it) your digital camera. Charge your batteries and bring extras!
  • Come Prepared. Bring your laptop if you plan on uploading information right after the show. Bring your phone if you want to live Tweet the event. Bring a microphone for your video camera if you can! You’d rather be over-prepared than under-prepared.


Day of The Event:

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Conferences: It's All About the Shoes

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This is a post that’s probably more relevant to all my female readers out there, so my apologies in advance to the men in my audience. This is a post I just really felt I needed to write.

Because sometimes, I don’t know what is wrong with me. Seriously. Like to the point where I have to question whether my father’s jokes about the doctor dropping me when I was born really are jokes after all. I’m a smart person, and I read blogs posts written by smart people. It’s on every single “conference attendee tip list” out there: wear comfortable shoes.

And yet, there I sat at the hotel after a ten-hour day at the Philadelphia Convention Center, nursing my bleeding feet. Yes, that’s right. My toes and the back of my ankle were bleeding from not wearing the proper shoes. I also had blisters the size of small mountains and couldn’t feel my heels because they were numb from walking all day.

I’m a generally fit person, at least to the point where I don’t tire after just an hour of walking. I made the sensible decision to leave my heels alone. I’m 5’10, so I tower over people when I wear heels anyway. Still, when I looked at the two options in my suitcase – sensible, albeit boring, sneakers and cute ballet flats that I had just purchased the day before – I made the choice of style over comfort. How bad could a pair of flats me?

Bad. Super bad. Mega-intense-pain bad. Bad to the point where my feet were not just in discomfort, but I literally could barely walk. Sometimes, I don’t know what is wrong with me.

Since that conference, which was actually about three years ago now, I’ve attended multiple other events, and I always make a note of girls’ shoes. I’m not the only moron, apparently. At the end of the day, at least 25% of the girls I see walking around are doing so slowly and with a limp. Sometimes, I don’t know what is wrong with us.

Think back for a moment to any event you’ve ever attended in your niche. Of all the people you met or saw, do you remember what a single one of them was wearing on their feet? Unless someone wore something totally weird, it’s unlikely that you can think of a specific time when you noticed someone’s footwear. Yes, you might compliment someone’s shoes if you’re standing in line and notice they’re wearing something cute, but I bet you never once looked at someone’s shoes at a conference and thought, “Wow, they’re wearing sneakers. How boring.” If anything, you probably longingly wished you wore sneakers, too.

My point is this: the “wear comfortable shoes” tip is more than just a tip. It is a need. You need comfortable shoes just like you need a ticket to get into the event. As you prepare for BlogWorld Expo over the next few months, take some time to really think about which shoes you’re going to wear. Even if you plan on doing a lot of sitting, you’ll thank yourself if you dress for comfort.

Remember, comfort doesn’t have to be boring or ugly. If you’re into fashion or aren’t willing to compromise your style, spend some money on new shoes that are both comfortable and interesting. Mine are pictured above. Wear them in the weeks leading up to the event to break them in, and plan your outfits accordingly so you aren’t tempting to go for the stilettos as you’re getting dressed at the hotel.

Allison Boyer is a writer for BWE’s blog and the owner/manager of After Graduation. It’s true; she has the coolest sneakers of all time.

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