With many of our team members making plans to attend conferences this fall- Rebecca is at FutureM this week and will join Amy at the International PRSA conferences in October- I wanted to investigate how one can get the most out of a conference experience. Attending these events often requires travel, and a big investment of time and money. So, how do you make a return on that investment and take full advantage of these opportunities? Our founder, Ted Chaloner, has a wealth of experience attending a wide variety of conferences, and he had some great tips to share.
SB: How do you find out about relevant upcoming conferences? Any good resources?
TC: A lot of promotions come through email, and I stay on top of what is happening at NIRI, PRSA, and IABC but the best recommendations often come by word of mouth. I attend some events that happen regularly, such as the MIT Enterprise Forum in Cambridge and Mass Innovation Nights, which happen monthly. It’s also good to find things to attend that are not necessarily PR specific.
SB: What factors do you look at to determine if a conference is worth attending?
TC: I look at who the speakers are, and I also look at who’s going. Many conferences publish a list of attendees. It’s as important to consider whom you would like to meet, as it is whom you would like to hear speak.
SB: Any tips on travel arrangements and making plans in advance?
TC: Conferences will often advertise certain hotels on their websites and they sometimes offer reduced rates. It is good to stay as close as you can to the conference, if not in the venue itself, to take advantage of opportunities for meetings. As you find out who’s going, through the attendee list or through social media, arrange meetings in advance. If you can give yourself an extra day on the front or back end of the conference, you will have more time for this. Consider also what people in that city you would like to see who are not going to the conference. Part of your preparation should be to reach out to your whole network in that region.
SB: What advice do you have for getting the most out of the conference itself?
TC: Look closely at the conference schedule and pay attention to two things: what discussions and meetings are you most interested in? And which ones are people you want to meet going to be attending? Perhaps you’re not managing very many people yet, but the session on leadership might put you in a room with some senior professionals it would be good for you to connect with, for example.
SB: What kind of follow-up have you found to be most effective?
TC: My follow-up has been a combination of email and phone calls. We have a database at Chaloner that helps us track people in our network, and it is good for you to have some way of recording who you met and how they might be useful.
SB: Anything to add?
TC: Larger conferences have social programs- dinners and outings- and it is good to attend as many of those events as you can. At one conference I attended, there was a London company who was having an open house to announce a new US operation. I went to their event and introduced myself to the head of the company. He went on to become a great client of ours, and has been for 15 years.
SB: Wow. All because you went to that open house!
TC: Yep. Ask the conference organizers, who are often underutilized, and let them know you want to meet people involved in crisis communications or healthcare PR or whatever. Volunteering on a conference committee is also a way to get more involved and you might seek out opportunities to be on a panel in the future.
SB: How do you pursue being invited to speak at a conference or participate in a panel?
TC: Figure out what the conference needs and who the audience is and put together a presentation. There is usually a formal process for applying to be a speaker with definite deadlines. It is good to seek out partners who might present with you. That multitude of perspectives will make you more attractive to an audience. Presenting at these events provides great visibility and helps to further expand your network.
We have some more great tips on how to work a room here. What conferences will you be attending this fall?
Chaloner, founded in 1979 as Chaloner Associates, is a national executive search firm that focuses on recruiting mid- to senior-level communications, public relations, marketing and investor relations professionals.