Written By: Tom Ogg
December is always a month that allows one to reflect over the past year and look ahead to the coming one. It is the time most agents are working on their following year plans and this is also the best time to plan your educational activity with regard to industry conventions, conferences and other educational activities. While there will undoubtedly be educational opportunities that arise during the upcoming year, developing your conference strategy in a logical and results-oriented process makes the most sense.
Many times the most popular conferences sell out far in advance of their occurrence while at other times some conferences are begging for attendees offering substantial discounts and incentives at the last minute. Since assuming you have a budget for educational conferences and trade shows, there are several things that you can do to maximize your results.
Make Sure You Pick the Right Show(s)
Nothing is worse that attending a show that is a total mismatch for you and your business. While I like to believe that everyone can learn something new at every conference, the plain truth is that if you have chosen the wrong conference, it could turn out to be a huge waste of time, resources and effort.
Each conference has its own personality and following. You should try to match a conference’s content and its following to match your interests and knowledge. If you’re listening to a lecture on a subject and could be delivering it, you’re in the wrong event. Review the general speakers, seminars and break out training to make sure it is of interest to you and it at a level that will be stimulating. If you are attending a seminar and find it too basic or boring, feel free to get up and leave to pursue one that is more rewarding.
Also, consider the venue itself so that if you do plan a change of direction it can be easily accommodated. Focus and flexibility is critical to having a successful conference experience.
Register for the Conference in Advance
There are quite a few motivating reasons to book your conference right when registration opens. Virtually all conferences offer “Early Bird” discounts which can stretch your conference budget. You can also be assured that you can get the activities and educational tracks that you want. If it is a cruise or resort-oriented conference you will also be able to get the ship inspections or property inspections that you want, as well. Many of the conference’s social events may be capacity controlled as well. The benefits far outweigh the drawback of registering for your conference early rather than waiting for the last minute.
Plan, but Don’t Over-Plan
While having a well thought out plan of action for a conference is extremely desirable, don’t overplan to the point that you may have lost the ability to be responsive to opportunities that may present themselves during the conference. Rather than create a timetable plan where you are committing every minute of every day, set specific objectives that you would like to achieve during the conference and then invest the time to make sure that you are making it happen
Stay at the Hotel or Resort Where the Conference is Taking Place
Never forget the power of networking in the lounge of the show’s property. During the course of the conference virtually every supplier, speaker, executive or other potential new contact will make themselves available in the lobby lounge. And, count on lots of peer to peer networking to be available.
Dress for Success
Now that you have focused on the conferences that you will attend don’t make the mistake of thinking that because it may be taking place in a tropical paradise that you should dress to fit the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Always dress to be the nicest dressed attendee at the conference. Remember, you only have one chance to make a great first impression. Don’t let the way you are dressed detract from that.
Treat Your Feet Like Kings
Between trade shows, social events, seminars, inspections and networking, conferences tend to keep people on their feet much more than usual. Nothing is worse than developing blisters from uncomfortable shoes and if they get bad enough they can alter the results from your conference. Always take two pair of comfortable shoes to every conference and make sure to wear a different pair every day.
Take lots of Business Cards and “Contact Cards”.
Attending conferences is a great way to widen your sphere of influence. However using your best business cards to drop at the various booths and seminars that you attend may not be the best use of them. I advocate using a “throw-away” email address and inexpensive business cards that are used for that purpose. You are quite likely to be inundated with follow up email from everyone you have visited and nothing makes managing your email more complex. Instead use “Contact Cards” for those situations where you are interested in following up with the person you are connecting with. A “Contact Card” is a high quality card designed to enhance your communication by including your picture, contact info and space for a brief note. The best ones are multifold so that everything fits perfectly.
Focus on Workshops That Teach
One of the most important benefits conferences make available is the opportunity to listen to seminars and workshops that may introduce you to new ideas and concepts. Of course, the quality of the presenter has everything to do with the quality of the content. While some conferences treat breakout sessions as “Supplier Informercials” look at the presenter’s qualifications and description of the content they are sharing. Look for content that is timely and relative to your business and then look at the presenter’s qualifications for doing the seminar. The best presenter is one that is a successful peer detailing their pathway to success and isn’t afraid to share both their successes and failures.
Depending on your niche and social media presence there are many opportunities to extend your social reach by integrating your social platforms into your overall conference experience. Here are just a few ideas on how to do it.
Use the Event’s Hashtag: You can easily extend your content’s reach by including the hashtag assigned to the conference. Other attendees and interested folks will certainly be following the hashtags while the conference is underway and by including it in your social media posts, they will show up in their searches.
Get Active in the Conference’s Social Media Channels: If you follow the event’s hashtags you may find that there are Facebook groups focused on the conference, or a formal Twitter feed, or some other social media platform that you can become active within.
Connect With Like-Minded Attendees: If you are at a general cruise conference it is quite likely that there will be river cruise specialists there as well. Why not orchestrate a get-together of all those interested in selling river cruises. A short impromptu no host get-together will be for everyone’s benefit and who knows, may become an annual event that you can be in charge of.
Get Visual: With today’s smart phone technology, there is absolutely no reason to not be posting highly visual content to your social media channels. Take lots of pictures and post them on your social media channels. Tag the other people in your pictures and they will immediately recognize you and appreciate the call-out. Ditto for the suppliers that you want to increase your relationship with. A picture of their sales team in their booth during the trade show will go a long way to evolving a relationship.
Use Video: Nothing shouts “Watch Me” more than a well done video. There are so many opportunities for shooting compelling video at a conference that I am shocked more people do not do it. As an example, When the trade show first opens try walking the trade show floor and shoot the entire trade show and then publish it to YouTube.com using the show’s hashtags, Entitle it “2020 Conference Name First Look” and watch your views soar. Set up in-booth interviews with your preferred suppliers during the slowest portion of the trade show and then publish each interview separately with specific keywords including the names of the staff in the booth.
Network, Network, Network
During the entire conference make sure that you take every opportunity to network with suppliers, speakers and attendees. You just never know who will become influential in your business or spark a new and exciting idea or concept. The best way to exploit networking opportunities is to attend by your self with the objective of meeting and qualifying as many new potential contacts as possible. Have your elevator speech optimized so that you can convey who you are and what you do in a matter of seconds and then summarize what you are looking for in a new contact. Also, have an exit strategy when someone corners you and wants to hang out with you because it is more comfortable for them than having to meet new people.
Have Meetings With Important People
It isn’t often that an agent can actually get a photo with a top executive or celebrity in the travel industry, but conferences are ripe with the opportunity for one on one photographs. And, the power of using these photos in press releases makes them obviously worth the time and energy to obtain them. While it is best to have a partner that can take the photos, selfies can work just as well. Here is the trick.
When you identify a person that you would like to do a press release on with you and he or she shaking hands (or whatever) simply ask if they would be available for a quick photo with you. Rarely will anyone turn the offer down. Once you have the photo, make up a great story about how you met with cruise line president and CEO xx to discuss opportunities in your market place and benefits for your clients. These types of photos are always used in local business sections and after a few of them appear they start to brand you as the professional in your market dealing with the very top of the travel industry.
So there you have it. Start planning your 2020 conference season now and go armed with specific objectives and ideas. You will be amazed at how productive they may be for your business.