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5 Tips to Make the Most Out of Conferences (Sponsored Post)

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NMX blog post_Sept_Kelly and Milutin You’ve booked the tickets. You’ve found a place to sleep. You’ve broken every single piggy bank you’ve ever owned and paid the registration fee (or registered early and got a really good deal, because why waste perfectly good piggy banks?).  And now the day has finally come – The Much Anticipated Conference is finally here, and you’re off, with your phone, laptop, tablet, chargers and friendship bracelets tucked away in your backpack.

But let’s face it: conferences can be a rather chaotic affair. As frequent and avid conference goers, we’ve put together a list of tips that may help you get the very best out of the event:

1. Plan ahead

One does not simply walk into Mordor. Similarly, one does not simply walk into a conference without a solid game plan – including, but not limited to, all the places that sell food that can pass for lunch. With all the great keynote speeches to hear, sessions to attend, people to meet and booths to visit, there will hardly be room for a three-course meal. So pull out that conference agenda, and mark away! Pick some favorites and a few backups – it’ll be as easy as choosing which college to attend (by which we mean, there may be tears).

2. Be flexible

You’ve picked out the three sessions you’d physically fight people to attend – but you lost, or the speakers cancelled last minute. Now what? This is when your backups come in handy: some of the best sessions we’ve attended were completely spontaneous calls that featured an awesome audience and a speaker who is a part time blogging messiah, and part-time stand-up comedian. We’ve loved him so much that we invited him to speak at our own conference. See how that works?

3. Check out those booths

Things that can happen if you ignore those conference booths: a cute baby animal dies. Or, somewhat more likely, the people who are ridiculously passionate about their work (and may have flown over 4,000 miles to be there) don’t get to pass on that enthusiasm to you, which is totally your loss, dude. Not only can you score awesome freebies, you can also find unexpected business opportunities: we’ve been known to interview bloggers that use .me, feature them on our blog and social media channels, and give them the extra exposure they deserve! So check out those booths.

4. Bring business cards. Bring more.

If done right, conferences are usually 70% learning, 30% networking and 100% fun. I just made those numbers up, but jokes aside – while you’ll no doubt be inspired by the speeches you hear and the stuff you learn, don’t hesitate to share it with all the awesome people around you! And in these Days of Digital, don’t forget that business cards (especially neat ones with your headshot on the back) can go a long way in nurturing the new relationships you’ve created.

5. Follow up!

You’ve met ALL THE PEOPLE. Now what? Easy: as soon as you sleep of the post-conference excitement, go through those business cards and shoot everyone an email. This step is especially important for potential business partners – remind them where you’ve met, perhaps what you’ve discussed and where you’d like to go from there. Including a personal comment will always get you brownie points – we get tons of these emails after sponsoring conferences, and the ones that stand out are from people that paid attention to my (slight) obsession with chocolate, or the fact that our company is based in Montenegro, population: 620,000.

With this cheat-sheet in hand, you’re guaranteed to have a fun, memorable and productive event.  We’re also looking forward to hearing your voice: what tips, if any, would you add? What are some of your favorite ways of approaching people or businesses? Lastly, what’s the best memory from a conference that you’d like to share with the Internet?

5 Life-Changing Lessons I Learned at NMX

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new media lounge at nmx

You might suspect that I’m biased when I say that NMX is the best conference in the world. But I can honestly say that I would attend this conference even if I didn’t work for the company. The networking is great. The show floor helps my business. But more than anything, I love NMX for the education.

I’ve been blogging since 2006, and I highly disagree with advanced bloggers who say there’s only beginner content at NMX. Even in some of the 101-sessions, I end up learning new tips because this industry is changing so quickly. However, there are a few MAJOR lessons that stick out in my mind. Life-changing lessons, even. Today, I want to share with you what I’ve learned.

(And Pssst…did you know NMX 2014 tickets are available? Learn more here.)

Lesson #1: Not every piece of advice is right for every person.

At my first NMX (BlogWorld back then), I took notes at an alarming rate. Each session was filled with tips and tricks that I needed to implement on my blog immediately. I walked away from many sessions feeling like a failure. Why wasn’t I putting more effort into Facebook? Why didn’t I write more list posts? Why didn’t I have an ebook to sell? Why did I have no plans to start a podcast? Why did I ignore my site design? Why…

You get the picture.

But what I came to realize is that there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything. What’s important is that you’re prioritizing and testing all advice so you do the things that are most important for you.

Even more importantly, two pieces of advice can be in direct opposition of one another and still both be correct. I walked into one session where I was told that I absolutely need to have pop-ups on my blog because they convert well. I walked into a session immediately afterward where the speaker said pop-ups are horrible. That specific debate still rages on, and you shouldn’t fall on one side of the debate or the other just because someone else makes a case for it. Do your own testing, because your results could be very different from someone else’s results.

Lesson #2: Education means nothing without an implementation plan.

Conferences are simultaneously exhausting and inspiring. In the past, I would get home with a notebook full of great tips…and implement none of them.

I’ve found that if I truly want to make the most of NMX, I need to have a plan for getting the ball rolling after the conference. So now, on the plane ride home, I prioritize everything I’ve learned. During my first week back, I try my best to follow up with as many people as possible by organizing my collected business cards, and then I make every effort to implement the top three things I learned at the conference.

Lesson #3: Techniques and tips aren’t manipulative. People are.

Let’s say two people attend the same NMX session and learn the same tip for driving traffic. The way one person uses that tip could be very white hate while the way another person uses that tip could be extremely black hat.

Rarely are tips manipulative. It’s all how you use the advice for your own needs.

At NMX we try our very best to ensure that “black hat” people never speak at our conference, but there’s a lot of gray area. What one person considers a scam, the next person might consider to be fine. So, when you’re attending a session at NMX or at any conference for that matter, realize that you can still get value from a specific tip even if you don’t agree with exactly what the speaker does.

Lesson #4: Personal growth is reflected in business growth.

Some big-name bloggers have not seen their blogs grow in the past few years. They still have huge blogs, but their traffic/conversions are no better than the year before, while a smaller blogger might have seen tremendous growth, even though (s)he still has a lower traffic numbers.Who is the real winner? The small blogger, in my opinion.

At conferences, do you hang out with the same people or do you expand you horizons and meet new people at networking receptions? Do you skip sessions unless a friend is speaking or do you attend sessions from new people who have something interesting to teach you? Do you visit the show floor to learn about new products and tools or do you stick with what you’ve always used without examining new possibilities?

If you’re not growing as a person by admitting faults, it’s hard to grow as a business or content creator. This lack of personal growth is clearly visible at conferences. Some people choose to fully immerse themselves in the conference and learn all they can from everyone, while others do not.

Lesson #5: It’s important to ask for help.

We are nothing without one another.

I have a hard time asking people for help. I always feel like I’m imposing, and my mind is constantly yelling at me, “So-and-so doesn’t want to help you! What’s in it for them? Stop bothering people!”

Those are my insecurities talking. The fact of the matter is, if you’re a good, helpful person, people will be happy to help you as well. You just have to ask. Conferences like NMX are great for connecting with others and asking for any kind of help you might need.

That’s not to say you should plan out how you can use people. Make genuine connections, rather than only giving the time of day to people who can help you in some way. Just don’t be afraid to ask people for advice, interviews, guest posts, help connecting you with their friends, and other favors, as long as you can do so in a no-pressure way.

Remember always: You get what you give. Be helpful to others and that karma will circle back around when you’re the person in need.

I hope you’ll join us at NMX 2014, which is going to be a great show filled with even more life-changing lessons. Have you been to NMX (or BlogWorld) in the past? What are the most important lessons you’ve learned? Leave a comment!

 

What NOT to do at BlogWorld (And One Big Fat Event Secret)

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I’ve written often about what to do at BlogWorld – tips to help you prepare, tips to help you while you’re at the event…I’m about tipped out. Well, almost. BlogWorld LA is going to be here in less than two weeks, so I wanted to write one last post, this time featuring what not to do while attending. Oh, and head to the end because I have a big, fat conference secret that might just change the way you approach the entire event!

 

Tip #1: Don’t over-promise.

Thousands of really awesome people attend BlogWorld every year, and a-lister or not, a lot of them want to meet you (even if they don’t know it yet). Some of your friends might be speaking. People plan dinners and unofficial events. There are parties every night.

I know you want to do everything, but chances are pretty good that you won’t be able to get to all the cool stuff you want to attend. Don’t promise that you’ll be there, because when you miss it, you’ll disappoint (and maybe even anger) your friends and new acquaintances. The fact of the matter is that events overlap and sometimes you just need to refresh in your room for a few hours. Instead of promising that you’ll definitely be wherever someone wants you to be, tell them you’re going to do you best (and then actually do your best).

Tip #2: Don’t go to your friends’ sessions.

Deb might want to ring my neck for telling you to not go to sessions, but the point isn’t to skip them completely. Just attend the one that most fits your new media interests and needs in every time slot. With well over 200 speakers, you probably have some friends who are presenting sessions. That’s awesome. Go and support them – IF there are no other sessions that interest you at that time. You can always listen to their presentations via the virtual ticket after BlogWorld ends, but you only get one chance to actually network and ask questions in-person with the speaker presenting a topic that truly interests you. So choose how to spend your time wisely!

Tip #3: Don’t panic.

There’s a lot to do and see. You won’t do it all or see it all. It’s okay. Breathe. Focus on enjoying your time there, not on worrying that you aren’t making the most of your experience.

One of my fave pictures from BlogWorld 2010!

Tip #4: Don’t neglect Twitter.

A lot of people make jokes about people who are tweeting during the event when they could be hanging out with online friends face-to-face. While it is true that you should put your phone down to have dinner with a colleague or drinks with some readers of your blog, don’t turn it off completely. When you neglect Twitter, you miss out on the really cool stuff that pops up. Some of the coolest people I met last year were people I only met because I was watching the BlogWorld hashtag (it’s #BWELA for this upcoming event). I got to go to dinner with David Murray. I got to hang out in Darren Rowse’s suite. I got to sit up talking with Jordan Cooper until the wee hours of the morning. None of that would have happened if I wouldn’t have been using Twitter while at BlogWorld. This event is all about the people you’ll meet (like the wonderful group pictured at left), and they aren’t always listed in the program guide.

Tip #5: Don’t drink too much.

The opportunity is there. A lot of people do. If you want to party, go a day early or stay a day late. I have a heck of a good time in Vegas last year before BlogWorld started! But during the official event? Represent yourself well. BlogWorld should be fun, but this is also a professional event. No one wants to work with the guy who’s trashed and stumbling away from the party with a random hook-up on his arm and no one wants to be associated with the chick throwing up in the bathroom. Using “but my brand is edgy” isn’t an excuse. A lot of “edgy”-branded people go to BlogWorld parties and drink, but I’ve never seen Scott Stratten or Miss Destructo or anyone other a-lister get wasted when they should be networking.

Tip #6: Don’t give me your card until after our conversation.

At every BlogWorld, people seem to fall into three categories: those who have a stack of freshly-printed cards they’re actually holding in anticipation, those who have cards but rarely remember to give them out, and those who give cards when it makes sense. Be part of the last group. If we’ve barely met, I don’t want your card. Walking up to me and handing it out as you give your elevator pitch is not a good marketing plan. Talk to me. Get to know me. And then, if we connect and there’s a reason we might want to email one another in the future, give me a card before we part ways.

Tip #7: Don’t be a stalker.

One of the great things about BlogWorld is that tons of a-listers a attend and unlike many other events where they’re whisked away as soon as they’re done speaking, most actually stick around and talk to fans at BlogWorld. You’ll see many of them attending other sessions, perusing the expo floor, and hanging out at official parties, so there’s lots of time to say hello. Say it! They want to meet you (in my experiences). But don’t be a stalker. Just because you said hello to an a-lister (or anyone at BlogWorld for that matter), doesn’t mean that you’re now best friends. Give them some space. When you start popping up everywhere and monopolizing their time, it’s just…well…creepy and annoying.

Tip #8: Don’t forget to follow up.

As soon as you get home (or even back to the hotel room if you have time), follow up on the business cards you collected. Check out sites you promised to check out. Follow people on Twitter. Draft emails that you promised to send. Say thank you if someone helped you. If you let these tasks go, they’ll never get done. Two months later, you aren’t going to remember a lot of the people you met if you didn’t follow up with a relationship immediately after the event – and they certainly won’t remember you either.

Tip #9: Don’t forget to bring your camera.

And more importantly, don’t forget to use it! You may not see these people again until next year. And in reality, you may not see these people again EVER. Bring your camera to capture the fun moments. No one ever leaves and event thinking “man, I wish I wouldn’t have taken so many pictures” but all too often, we leave wishing we would have taken more.

And One Big, Fat Secret? Okay, are you ready for this. Here’s what I didn’t know coming into my first major event that has changed my outlook: Everybody is nervous about attending.

Seriously.

Last year, I let my nerves get the best of me on several occasions, and I thought I was totally alone. When I wrote about my experiences afterward, however, I found out that I wasn’t! Even people like Chris Garrett and Andy Hayes stopped by to comment about feeling similar at times. We all have insecurities. We all have “heroes” who we’re nervous to meet. We all get anxious when going to a party where we don’t know anyone else. We all worry about what other people thing. It’s human nature. Some of us are more anxious than others, but at BlogWorld, I’d say there are probably more introverts than extroverts. We spend all day blogging behind a computer screen. Meeting people in real life is scarey.

So don’t think you’re the only one who needs to retreat to the hotel for a few hours of alone time. Just don’t let fear paralyze you to the point where you stay there. We’re very nice people. I promise. 🙂

Overheard on #BWEchat: Kids at Conferences

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This week, #BWEchat‘s topic was kids at conferences in a town hall type of setting with no special guest. I personally don’t have kids, but I’ve definitely been to conferences and conventions where kids were welcome  – and have had both good and bad experiences. Some of the questions posed this week included:

  • Does a con’s child policy affect your decision to attend? More or less likely to attend if kids are allowed?
  • Under what circumstances do you think professional conferences should allow kids?
  • Does it affect your business networking having your child with you?
  • As an attendee, are you concerned about kids disrupting conference sessions? What about as a speaker?
  • Does the age range of the children allowed at a conference matter?

The topic at hand definitely sparked some great conversation from parents and non-parents alike. Here were some of my personal favorite tweets from the night:

  • @karonwarren: I don’t think it matters who the conference is for; it’s a professional environment & should be conducted as such.
  • @LindsayDianne: Any conference that I go to, I’m trying to learn. For me, it’s more likely to be effective without having to parent.
  • @nlowell: I’m more concerned abt ‘entitled adults’ highjacking the panel than kids
  • @theresesquared: Kids can keep the audience and speaker on their toes. That’s for sure. If they’re bored you’ll know it.
  • @2xKnight: Clear guidelines for what to do with disruptive children would help. No matter the kid’s age.
  • @BlackCanseco: Kids can disrupt a conference but so can really annoying adults.
  • @AngEngland: I think that part of the responsibility of being a mother going to conferences is to have back-up plans in place.
  • @SherylLoch: The tip is start teaching your kids to sit & be quiet LONG before the conference. Start at like…birth.
  • @OneBrownGirl: I think that the rules for blogging are still being invented. What works at one conference might not work at another..vice versa

Thanks to everyone who came out for a great discussion on this topic! Next week, we’ll be talking about how to ad humor to your blog with special guest Jordan Cooper (@notaproblog), so I hope to see you all there. Remember, #BWEchat takes place every Wednesday at 9 PM EST, hosted from @blogworldexpo, so mark us on your calendar!

Blogging from an Event: More on Planning, Prioritizing, and Preparing

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Earlier today, Nikki wrote a really great post about planning, prioritizing, and preparing when you head off to BlogWorld or any other type of event.

Insert my geek jealousy that she went to Comic Con here.

Anyway, I wanted to build on her ideas a little in regards to actually blogging live from a conference. As I told ya’ll yesterday, this will be my first year at BlogWorld, and I’m a little nervous about attending. This is not my first conference, though, and from a remote blogging standpoint, I think I’m an old pro. This aspect of attending a conference takes it’s own planning, prioritizing, and preparing.

Plan

The number one thing you should find out is whether or not there will be WiFi at the conference center. This information may not be readily available on the conference website, but it is often listed on the press page. If you qualify as a member of the press, you should absolutely sign up to go under a press pass. Even if you don’t mind paying for an attendee badge, members of the press often have a press-only room for working, as well as access to interview spaces and sound-proof rooms for podcasting. Conferences also often have staff on hand to help members of the press set up interviews and other opportunities.

One of the interview spaces at Game X, a conference I attended in Philly.

Do not wait until you get there to tell them that you’re press. At most conferences, there is a strict deadline to register for a press badge.

Another aspect of planning – set up interviews before you go with the people you really want to see. That way they’re not only prepared for your interview, but there’s no chance of them being too busy for you and turning you down. Try to be courtesy of their time and flexible when scheduling, especially for celebrities at the event who are meeting with tons of other people too.

Prioritize

This part is tricky. Yes, you want to attend the conference and see all the cool stuff there is to see, but as a blogger, you also have the duty to report on what is most interesting to your readers, not just what you enjoy. For example, at BlogWorld, you may want to see Speaker A talk about monetizing your blog at the same time Speaker B is running a high-profile panel directly covering your blog’s niche. Which should you attend? I can’t make that decision for you, but I will say that if you never consider your readers while at an event, you probably shouldn’t worry about blogging from it at all.

You also need to prioritize your time during the day to give yourself time to work if you intend to blog from the event. Yes, you may really want to go to the bar after a long day at the conference, but it is more important to upload pictures to your blog or sit down to edit a video you shot. I’m not trying to kill all your fun – promise! Just be aware that if you want to blog from an event, you need to schedule time for work.

Prepare

This is a biggy. When you’re blogging from an event, here are some of the main things you can do to prepare:

  • Bring a good bag for carrying your laptop and other equipment. It will be a long day if you have to lug something around and your shoulder hurts.
  • Make sure you have charger batteries for all your equipment and bring your chargers with you to ensure you don’t run low.
  • Bring a back-up camera if you can. I can’t tell you how many cameras get set down somewhere and forgotten or stolen at events. Having an extra back at your room is a lifesaver.
  • Mark all of your equipment with your name and number. Like I said, cameras and other equipment get set down when you’re talking to someone and it’s easy to just walk away. People who find your equipment need a way to contact you.
  • Find out where the local WiFi hotspots are located in case the connecting at the conference center or your hotel isn’t as good as you thought. You can at least get a few posts done at Starbucks during the evening.
  • Find out where the local RadioShack (or comparable store) is located in case you need to pick up anything while in town.
  • If you have a smartphone, download apps for Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites so you can connect to people on the go without giving out your cell number to everyone you meet.

Conferences in any niche take a lot out of you, so don’t forget to also plan, prioritize, and prepare for the day you get home. Plan no work so you can sleep. Prioritize sleep before other things on your schedule. Prepare for being super tired but not being able to sleep because you’re thinking about all the stuff you just say.

Allison Boyer is a writer for BWE’s blog and the owner/manager of After Graduation. Comic Con is her Mecca.

Image (c) Allison Boyer/Binge Gamer

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