Rocking SXSW and PubCon: How to Get More Out of Conferences

I’m on a plan right now headed to Austin where I will be speaking at SXSW and PubCon South.  As many of you probably know, I’ve been attending conferences around the world for many years now, and I speak at them about 20 times a year.

One of the things that I’ve noticed over the years is that success at a conference requires pre-work and preparation.  In order to get the most out of the conferences you attend it is vital to plan in advance.

I’ve seen people attend conferences and derive no business value while others closed major deals.  The key difference?  Planning and Working It.

Here are 10 ways to prepare yourself to ROCK the conferences you go to.

1) Know what you want

The first step is knowing what you want to achieve.  What are your goals of attending the conference?  What types of businesses or individuals do you want to connect with?  What are your main business objectives?  Are you going to learn, connect, find business, find opportunities, etc.  Knowing this upfront will help you get more out of the conference.

2) Practice your elevator pitch

Be able to articulate who you are and what you do in 30 seconds in a memorable way.  You want people to remember you after the show.  If you have a business that you are promoting practice that elevator pitch as well.  Be able to communicate clearly and avoid buzzwords so people remember you.

3) Find out who will be there

Do some research in advance.  Know who else will be at the conference.  Look online at speaker lists and exhibitor lists.  Look for tweets with the conference mentioned.  Find Facebook or LinkedIn events for the conference and connect with them.

4) Know who matters

Based on your goals, there should be a handful of people that you really want to meet.  Know who they are.  Know the people who will help you achieve your goals.  You may not want to go for the rockstar, but look for others.  For example, a few years ago at SXSW I saw Guy Kawasaki enter the blogger lounge.  He was followed by about 20 people trying to pitch him.  Rather than trying to pitch the keynote speakers who might be overwhelmed, look for more accessible people who can help you.

5) Connect with people in advance

When you know who matters try to connect with these people in advance.  Drop them a not and let them know that you are looking forward to meeting them.  Do your research and connect with them on LinkedIn or Twitter – and let them know that you will be looking for them at the conference.

6) Find the Connectors

One thing I know about the conference circuit is that there are a TON of connectors at them – people who will introduce you to people who can help you.  These people know lots of people, and when they find out your goals they will happily connect you with people they know who might be able to help.  Many years ago when I attended the first Blog World Expo I had the pleasure of meeting Des Walsh.  When I told him what my business was he recommended that I connect with Jeremy Wright, then the CEO of B5 Media.  Des and Jeremy are both friends of mine to this day.

7) Schedule meetings

Scheduling meetings will help keep you on track and ensure that you meet with the people who are most important to you. Remember that when connecting with people in advance, clearly articulate what is in it for THEM.  If you email me and tell me that you would like to buy me a drink to get my advice on your social media plan I’ll tell you that my hourly rate is more than a beer.  What is in it for me?  Can you connect me to someone who I want?  Can you offer me a business opportunity?  Just asking for help rarely works.  If planning a connecting in advance be sure to clearly state why.

8) Find the social events

Know where and when the social events are happening, and don’t be afraid to go alone (in fact, this is often better).  At many of these events the best networking happens after hours.  People do business with people they know, like and trust.  You don’t want to be the crazy drunk person at the social events, but getting to know people on a personal level can help your cause.

9) Advertise your attendance in advance

Let people know that you will be at the event.  Post it on your website, twitter, newsletter, Facebook, etc.  Posting your attendance shows your commitment to the industry and let’s other people in your network know you’ll be there.

10) Find out who you know that is going

Find out who you know that might be at the conference.  Ask your social networks.  Find the events pages for the conferences.  People you know can introduce you to people you want to know, and a warm intro goes a long way.

11) Bring lots of business cards

This is obvious, but people often forget.  And remember to keep your cards with you AT ALL TIMES.  It looks REALLY LAME when you don’t have business cards.  I also keep the JPeg files of my business cards on my laptop in case I run out or forget.  Kinkos can usually get you cards in a few hours.

12) Make conference specific materials

Making materials specifically for the conference can also help.  One of the people who does this best is Rob Snell.  Rob makes specific cards for each conference that highlight when he’ll be speaking and where.  He also includes a different funny picture on the card.  People talk about his cards and really look forward to seeing the newest ones.

13) Get plenty of rest before you go

In the effort to cram work in before your trip you might stay up late or plan a ridiculously early or late flight.  Don’t.  Make it a point to be well rested.  If you work the event correctly you will be up early and out late.  Get lots of rest.

14) Pack essentials to take care of yourself

Whenever I go to a conference my suitcase is packed with the regular items, but I also pack EmergenC, Asprin and energy bars.  Being on your feet networking and in sessions listening all day is exhausting.  I bring supplies with me to make sure that I am physically prepared to perform at my best.

15) Plan your sessions in advance.  Look at speakers not just topics.

Do your homework and plan the sessions that you want to attend in advance.  Most conferences offer multiple tracks, and you don’t want to waste your valuable networking time making these decisions.  When picking sessions, don’t just go by topics (these descriptions are usually written by the conference and don’t always accurately represent the topic), but look at the speakers.  Are there people you want to meet?  Go to their session.

16) Promote your stuff

If you are involved in the conference in an official way (or even unofficially) promote it online.  Create a Facebook event for your panel or session.  Promote where your booth will be in the exhibit hall.  Use your internet marketing channels to promote your involvement with the conference.  The conference organizers will also like this because you are promoting the conference for them 😉

#pubconsouth #pubcon #sxsw #sxswi

Any other tips?  How do you prepare to be awesome at conferences?


  1. Krista,

    Very good tips and advise on those attending a conference on how to make the most of your time at a conference as well as get the best out of your contacts. Thanks Trish

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