Multiplying the value of conference attendance

Attending conferences can cost a large amount of money – not including the world-wide induced stop to in-person conferences, I average about $1500 a conference just for hotel, and flight, and that doesn’t include the tickets. For this to make sense for your business, you have to know what your ROI is to make sure you’re getting the most out of the experience. So how do you go about multiplying the value of conference attendance?

While these suggestions are primarily for those attending business or professional conferences, they really apply to any kind of conference – including academic conferences.

There are four distinct stages to the conference attendance experience to examine when clarifying the potential value of conference participation!

They each have their own tips for making the most of them. The goal is Return on Investment (ROI). So, what are these four stages?

1. Pre-game (aka Prepare)
2. During the event: in-person and online communications
3. Hangover (aka Assimilation and Reset)
4. Follow Up and deepening of relationships

Know why you are going!

How do you determine (in advance) what your breakeven point is for attending a conference? do you know what your ROI goal is? I’d love to hear in the comments, whether these are four stages you recognise or if you think of it in a different way.

three people including Anna Blanch Rabe sit on white armchairs on a stage - Anna is a white woman with dark curly hair wearing all black with a turquoise necklace. There is also another man and woman on the stage, both are white and wearing business professional clothing.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve gotten a lot of questions from entrepreneurs, non-profit leaders, and professionals about how best to activate their social media at a conference. This comes from people at all levels! I hear these questions whether they’re an attendee, speaker or sponsor.

1. Pre-game to set a foundation for great conference ROI.

My focus is on Return on investment (ROI), whether I am paying out of my own pocket or stewarding the limits resources of the organisation sending me.

Know why you are going.

Writing down your desired return on investment can help you stay focused. Be sure that it is a SMART goal, to give you the best chance of achieving your goal.

My reasons for conference attendance are three-fold: 1) I am a strategic advocate and network builder – so often I make and deepen relationships that help connect people; 2) I often connect with companies who may be future first-degree connections with those partners (corporate and non-profit) and military-connected businesses; 3) I often participate in conversations that give me ideas and tools that can be applied outside of their original context.

Make connections before showing up.

Make social connections (with attendees, speakers, sponsors) before heading into the event, so that your meet-up in person is warm vs. cold. Connect with speakers and other attendees on linkedin writing a message explaining why you want to connect.

Outline Content prior to the event.

Create a series of posts for LinkedIn or your website before, during and after the event. These posts could focus on questions you hope are answered, workshop/keynote takeaways, and perhaps a daily roundup. You can draft the outlines of these posts in advance – including social media images – so you can plug in the additional information from being there each day and hitting publish!

Ask about event Hashtags in advance.

Hashtags can be a great way to get involved with a conference. Use the hashtag(s) on social media (not Facebook, but other social media platforms), follow them and engage with others using them. You can save searches on Twitter so you can follow the conversation.

Make a Date

Plan a pre-conference lunch or dinner to meet up with other attendees or speakers. This can be a great way to optimize attendance, build rapport and deepen relationships. Plan to have drinks at the end of a day with 1-2 others inviting a couple more people you meet along the way.

Pack well.

I have created a checklist for items to pack for your your next presentation, conference or Speaking engagement –  Event Packing checklist 

2. During the conference: in-person and online communications

Be in the moment.

Be present as much as possible. Look people in the eyes and ask genuine questions and listen.

Be a Person First.

Don’t treat everyone you meet as an opportunity to pitch or sell. Relationships are worth taking time to develop.

Remember that networking is a skillset.

Work from your strengths – and know that we all have more to learn!

For more information on important skills to develop to be a networking rockstar, we have a Guide to networking at conferences.

Write about what you are learning and who you are learning from.

Write a small roundup about each session during the session -Engage in real-time conversation with those in and around the conference (speakers, attendees, supporters, sponsors) using Twitter or Instagram.

For asynchronous sharing, write a draft and post about each day at lunch or the end of the day. You could combine all of these roundups into an article for linkedin, your website, or as a trip report for your company, organisation, or university.

Either way, try to tag the speakers or other attendees. Think of this as being involved in the larger conversation!

Use Video.

Use video for behind the scenes exclusive footage, interviews from your perspective. Great tools for this include Facebook Live, IG Live, TikTok, or LinkedIn Video.

Add Value.

Anything you share about the conference outside the conference should be general valuable, not a mere plug for your business. Focus on serving and adding value.

Pace yourself.

While it might seem obvious, drink water (i carry a reusable water bottle with me), eat like an athlete and sleep properly. I know that I am better able to engage when I am taking care of myself. If you are an introvert that needs some extra time to recharge, do what you need to do. Take a session off here and there. Get outside and get some sunshine at least once a day.

3. Post-Conference Hangover (and Recovery)

Know thyself.

I am usually peopled out for the next couple of days of an event longer than 3 days. I try to make time in my schedule for some extra rest and recovery.

When I say, I make time in my schedule what I mean is that I put it in my calendar as an appointment.

Making the appointment for some post-event reflection prevents me from overscheduling on my first 1-2 days back in the office.

Prioritise your basic needs.

Sleep, hydration, nutrition. We all need this reminder (i know i do).

Write it down.

Keep a pad of paper to write down follow-up tasks that come to do during the downtime – there is something that the brain does when it is resting, sometimes the subconscious will tell you things that you may otherwise overlook.

Write a lessons learned or After Event Report.

(the military calls this an after-action report “AAR”). Reflect on what went well, what didn’t and what you might do differently for the next event. These reflections can be for you personally, but they can also form part of a trip report if that is needed for your employer or organisation. I also find this reflection space helpful for making lateral connections.

4. Follow Up and deepening of relationships

Follow-up is key for maximising conference Return on Investment (ROI). I know this is the area where I haven’t realised the benefits and opportunities presented by the events and conferences I have participated in. Everything I say here is relevant whether you are an attendee, participant, facilitator, speaker, keynote, event organizer sponsor or event professional.

  • Make a plan and follow up in a timely manner. Within a week or two of the conference, send follow up emails and schedule informational calls with contacts. Please don’t make that first call a sales pitch. Put this followup on your calendar as an appointment.
  • Use technology to automate this part of the process and make life easier. I use an app that reads text of business cards and adds them to my contact list. I use templates as the basis for emails and personalize as appropriate. I haven’t used Chat-GPT for this yet, but i likely will start experimenting with that to create templates. Your organisation may use a CRM (customer relationship management) platform to tack engagements and interactions with clients, stakeholders and potential leads.
  • Connect with new contacts on LinkedIn and/or email. The main goal for me is to keep the relationship going past the event.
  • Take the responsibility of having been given someone’s contact details seriously. Don’t automatically add the email addresses you have collected to your email management platform and add them to your email list. This is bad form professionally. Be sure to ask for an opt-in, rather than requiring an opt-out.
  • Send anything you promised you would. Because you wrote down any promises you made, policy papers you said you would email, or any introductions you committed to making, now is the time to send anything you promised you would.
  • Develop a checklist for post-event recovery and follow-up. Be careful viewing every new contact as a lead, focus on developing and deepening a professional relationship.
  • Measure ROI. Review your goal established pre-conference. Write down what worked well and decide if you will attend this conference in the future.

What’s worked for you – how are you multiplying the value of conference attendance?

Attending a conference can be have a very specific ROI measured by quantified sales leads, research partnerships, cross-promotion. However, sometimes, attending a conference to simply network provides initially immeasurable future ROI.

What has helped you get the most out of your conference attendance? How have you established your conference attendance ROI?

To learn more about Anna Blanch Rabe or her investment company, Anna Blanch Rabe & Associates, please contact us.