Search conferences are key events in our industry where knowledge is shared and relationships are born.
This ranges from practitioners sharing with others their best practices and tips, as well as insights shared by leaders including the search engines themselves.
A lot of news and buzz often comes out of the big events during the year.
You can even get a lot out of smaller and local events.
The key is to be intentional in your planning and approach.
You (or your company) are investing in yourself every time you travel to a search conference and you want to get as much as possible out of the experience.
There’s a wide range of reasons or goals you might have going into an event.
Maybe you want to:
- Learn more on a specific topic.
- Meet more people in the industry.
- Advance your career
Maybe you want to do all these things. Or maybe you have other goals in mind.
Regardless, if you’re planning to attend an upcoming search conference, here are some specific ways you can get the most out of it.
1. Be Available
Availability is not a passive way to get more out of a search conference – it is active.
Booking your travel to be at as much of the conference and events possible is critical.
In addition to that, if you can be active and engaged during the day and evenings, you’ll get more out of it.
We all have work and family at home requiring our attention – and I totally understand – but the more you can focus on just the conference, the better.
When you miss parts of the agenda or evening events, you miss out on opportunities to leverage the relationships and content.
2. Engage Online
Most of the conferences or producing organizations have social communities and groups that you can join.
Once you register they often tell you how to join or request an invite.
Getting into these groups provides a great forum to ask questions of others and see what the buzz is about leading up to the event.
During the event, FAQs and other helpful information for the event, plus social activities (formal and informal) are announced. This is a great way to get plugged in, meet others, and hear what is being talked about.
Additionally, many of the conferences have an app that you can download to further engage in the social and digital sphere.
3. Plan Your Agenda
Don’t wing it!
Before you arrive at the conference, use the app or website to plan out the list of specific sessions you want to attend.
If you’re going with a team or have friends or colleagues going as well, resist the temptation to go to the same sessions. Spread out and cover as many sessions as possible and share notes afterwards.
One way that my team loves to collaborate is to create a single shared Google Doc that we all take notes within.
We can then see in realtime what is being recorded by our co-workers in other sessions (or in the same session).
It is a fun way to collaborate and share notes and you can do this outside of your organization as well.
If you’re going solo and don’t yet have a network of friends to share notes with, make note of the hashtags and handles and follow along on social each day for the key insights for the sessions you are interested in but can’t make it to.
4. Attend Social & Networking Events
Depending on your personality type and availability, you either look forward to or despise the evening events.
I want to encourage you to not skip them even if you have other work to do or if you’re an introvert. I have personally made some great long-term relationships and friendships in these events.
I can point to specific examples of friends I have made from other countries and regions who I stay in touch with to this day.
The community aspect of the search marketing industry is awesome.
Whether you’re meeting peers and colleagues or those that are speaking or sponsoring, the social events are one of the best avenues for engaging face to face.
5. Make Friends
When I travel solo to an event, in addition to connecting with people I know, I also try to meet new people and to connect with them for the rest of the week.
Whether that’s making plans to meet them at each social event, share notes, bump into them in sessions, and/or grab a meal together, it can be great to create a small group at each event.
On top of that, the more events you attend, the more colleagues and friends you’ll have over time.
Outside of the events, it is also great to have a network of trusted people you can bounce ideas and problems off of.
I know many people who create their own circles of advisors – people in different cities who they don’t compete with, but can share the latest news, tools, and strategies with. Their relationships were all formed at search conferences along the way.
6. Target Vendors
Vendors are going to target you.
Even if you opt-out of allowing them to market to you, they will find a way to know you are attending and will reach out.
However, they aren’t all evil and some can be very helpful.
Before you go to the conference, look at what companies are sponsoring and will be exhibiting there. If there are new tools, vendors, or other resources you are interested in or some that you currently use, make a note to see them and seek them out.
I have some specific vendors I have used for years and I enjoy seeking them out, receiving free stuff, and having a chance to talk directly with the product teams.
7. Follow Up
This one is important! Don’t forget to follow up with your new acquaintances and friends.
Often during conferences, I’ll collect business cards. Each night I like to make LinkedIn connections and send personal notes via email.
Some people have even become friends on Facebook and in person beyond the events.
If you forget to follow up or delay it, you may miss the chance to remember the other person or have them remember you.
If you’re putting in the work, getting out of your comfort zone, and having success getting the most out of the show, you don’t want to lose the opportunity to build firm connections.
If you have a personal or company social media presence or blog, you can do a lot for your brand and further engage in the community by live posting or blogging events.
Even recap posts from each day of bigger events get retweeted by the conferences themselves.
If you plan out and execute your own personal marketing and engagement strategy, you can get exposure and additional engagement at events.
I know every situation is different and each of us has different goals and personality types.
Being conscious of the ways to get the most out of search marketing conferences and planning in advance can go a long way to maximizing the investment of time and money into events.
I want to encourage you to engage before, during, and after and focus on availability, content, and relationships.