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Conference Tips for First Timers: National Speakers Association

By July 11, 20152 Comments

Thom Singer photoIf you’re joining us at the National Speakers Association annual conference, being held this year in Washington, D.C., you’ll want to read the following post: Conference Tips for First Timers by guest blogger, Thom Singer. Strap on your seatbelts and get ready for a fun ride! 

The first time you attend an industry event can be awesome, and scary.  It often seems like everyone else has been there a million times and you are the only one without a clique of special friends.  But the first time also brings with it advantages, as everything is new, everything is interesting.  Your “Fresh Eyes” allows you to have new experiences.

When you take ownership of your whole experience, you maximize your learning, meet more people, and have better “hallway conversations”.  A live event is full of impromptu moments, but to take full advantage of the serendipity, you need to plan ahead.

Below are 9 tips to help you rock your first year attendance (or 10th year!!!) at any event:


  1. Check in ASAP.  If the event starts the next day you might be tempted to wait until the morning to pick up your nametag and conference materials. However, the lines will be longer in the morning, and if they have a bag of welcome “goodies”, then you may need to carry it around for the rest of the day.  If the registration booth is open, take care of this right away.


Additionally, there might be unofficial events happening the night you arrive and showing up early could equal an invitation to a VIP activity. Ask the person checking you in if there is anything going on or if there are people seeking dinner companions. A good conference team will be happy to try to connect people. It is often the serendipitous meetings that happen early at a conference that lead to the most meaningful connections.


  1. Review the agenda in detail. Read over the descriptions of all the keynote and breakout sessions. NOT JUST THE TITLES. Too often speakers come up with quirky titles that hide the real power of the information that will be presented (or vice versa). I have seen many people skip out on certain sessions only to later realize they missed some powerful information they needed to hear. Make your decisions as to what are your “must see” presentations in advance. This way if something comes up (like you are tired or have a work emergency) you are familiar with the areas in the schedule where you have flexibility.


  1. Say “Hello”. Once you put on your nametag you become part of the mini-society of the conference. Do not by shy in talking to others who are sporting the same nametag. If you were in Europe and you saw someone wearing a t-shirt with your hometown or college name on it … you would probably say “Hi”. In the halls of the hotel or convention center there might be many groups present, but those at your conference are present for the same reasons (one of which is meeting others). Be the person who initiates conversations. If you wait for others to talk to you, it could be a lonely conference.


  1. Attend the “First Timer Orientation/Reception”. If the conference offers a first-timers meeting, be sure to who up.  This allows you to learn about some of the traditions of the agenda, as well as meet others who are new comers.  Making new friends early on in the event can make the whole conference better (especially for introverts), as you will have a “go-to” person you can chat with if you ever feel alone.


  1. Do not check your phone in the conference area. Too many people spend the breaks or the time just before a breakout session glued to their smart phones checking emails (or playing Candy Crush). When you do this you broadcast to the other attendees that you are not approachable. People cannot come and talk with you while you are busy, as that would be rude, so they write you off. This feeling about you might subconsciously remain at social events later in the conference. If you have to take a call, step away from the conference area. Yes, you are busy and have stuff to keep up with, but it can wait a few minutes or you should not have traveled to the convention in the first place. Twenty years ago when people attended a trade show they were present both physically and mentally. Now many show up in body only.


This does not mean you cannot pull out your phone during a presentation. If the speaker says something interesting, you may want to post his comments to Twitter or Facebook. If the speaker is too boring to keep your attention, then that is not your problem… and you are free to check email (but give them a chance first).


  1. Have business cards handy. There is a trend for people to not carry business cards. But without the exchange of a card the possibility of a follow up goes way down. The card is a reminder in the physical world that you met this person. Too many want to text, “Link In”, or tell the other person to “Google them” to get contact information. While some might follow through, most contact information gets lost in the digital stew and nothing ever happens. Getting a person’s card, and giving them your information, means you are more likely to follow up.


Never expect the other person will follow up with you. You must own the follow-up once you get home or they will most likely become lost in your past as someone you met once. There is a big difference between someone you have met at a meeting and a person with whom you have cultivated an ongoing friendship. Relationships do not happen by accident.


  1. Take notes. I recently listened to a keynote presentation from a person who was a lifetime business adviser and friend to Steve Jobs. This guy was actively sharing important nuggets of business advice to a room of 500 entrepreneurs. Only about a dozen people were taking any notes. While is information was interesting, he was not so captivating that his words were to be burned into the soul. Few people probably remembered this guy’s insightful information. Take notes so you can review them on the flight home and you will retain more to put to use when you get back to the office.


  1. Meet the vendors. There is often a stigma about the trade show portion of business events. Many people never even venture into the room to visit the booths and displays. People are scared of being pounced upon by sales people and fear being added to yet another email list. But vendors are the best friends you can have in your industry. The good ones are keenly aware of what others in your industry are doing, and they are always happy to share ideas and best practices with those they have developed meaningful relationships. If you are not interested in what a vendor has to sell, just say so. Most sales professionals know not everyone they meet is an instant prospect , but cultivating friendships with sponsors is often a quick way for you to uncover future opportunities, and learn fresh ideas.


  1. Have fun. Event planners put in a lot of effort to ensure that conferences are both informational and entertaining. Take full advantage of the entertaining part of an event. Even if you are an introvert you can still have fun at the social activities. Find a small group of people whom you can relate and shrink the party size to just your gathering of three or four.

Now, fasten your seat belt, return your tray table to its upright position, and have a wonderful time at the conference.


Thom Singer is known as “The Conference Catalyst”.  He is a professional Master of Ceremonies, Keynote Speaker, and Hybrid Event Host.  He is also the host of the popular “Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do” Podcast.


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