How to Make Your Next Conference an Insanely Useful Experience

  • August 25, 2011 by Caleb Wojcik
  • 35 Comments

Note from Corbett: This post is by Caleb Wojcik of Pocket Changed. Caleb recently joined our team and I’d like to formally welcome him as the new Assistant Editor of Think Traffic. He was a model student from the first class of Traffic School and it is great to have him aboard!

Please say hello and welcome Caleb in the comments below.

Your next in-person conference could be a life- or business-changing experience. I’ll show you how my last conference led to some amazing opportunities and how you can make sure your next conference does too.

Whether you are forced to go to a convention for work, go for a hobby you like to “geek out” on, or because it is for a good cause that you care about, they can go one of two ways:

  • They can be boring affairs filled with never-ending presentations, stale conversations, countless looks to the clock, and bad coffee.
  • They can be inspiring and creative idea starters with attendees that have a contagious energy-boosting aura surrounding them.

I went to the former kind of conference for work and it was mostly a forgettable event. I approached my second conference differently because it was the World Domination Summit, hosted by Chris Guillebeau, and it turned out to be the latter.

The main difference between WDS and other conferences I had been to before was in the genuine connections you could make with people. Business cards were an afterthought. The person, their aspirations, and their story mattered more than any job title they held.

But even if an event is filled with A-List speakers, energetic Gen Y’ers, and breakout sessions that interest you, that doesn’t mean that it will automatically make a noticeable difference in your website, business, or life.

And if your conference turns out to be one of those boring clock-checking affairs, you can still get a lot out of it with a little planning and creativity.

My last conference led to working with several new clients, landing this new role I just started with Think Traffic and much more. Here’s what you can do to make sure your next conference is an insanely useful experience:

Prepare a Game Plan for the Event

After you buy your tickets, spend a good amount of time going over the list of speakers, breakout sessions, and attendees.

Make sure you have something interesting to talk to people about. Do in-depth research on the people giving keynote speeches. Read their blogs and books. Find out what they are working on next. Figure out if there is any way you can help them with a project.

When you are at the convention you will have opportunities to talk to the more famous attendees, pick their brain, and ask their advice about topics that they would normally charge you hundreds of dollars per hour for. Don’t waste these opportunities.

Carefully plan which breakout sessions, smaller talks, and activities you will go on. If there is someone you really want to meet in person and talk to longer than the standard thirty-second elevator pitch, figure out what other, smaller events they will be speaking at or be a part of.

Don’t be creepy and stalk them. Just plan your schedule to increase the probability that you’ll be hearing them speak about another topic where you can connect with them on a more personal level.

Don’t just focus on the superstars of the event. Spend time researching the background of the attendees that aren’t the headliners or speakers. Many conferences list the names of people that are attending and with a bit of dedicated time you can learn a lot about them.

If you end up sitting by someone you investigated a bit online beforehand they will be genuinely flattered that you have heard of them before. Do this with people inside and outside your niche.

Be on Your “A” Game at the Event

Conventions and conferences tend to have a lot of down time. In between keynotes, coffee breaks, meals, and Bollywood dance-offs there will be chances to strike up conversations with strangers. Don’t pull out your smart phone and check your countless apps for updates.

Turn to the person to your left or right and have a sincere conversation with them about who they are, what they do, and what their aspirations are. People get used to talking about what they do for a living. Ask them what they do to feel alive.

In the same vein, don’t be afraid to approach people. At a convention surrounded by hundreds or thousands of strangers you’ve never met is not the time to be shy. If someone looks familiar, approach him or her. If a person you met earlier is standing with a group of people you don’t know, have them introduce you.

You never know what kind of relationship or partnership you can build with someone until you meet them. Be more than a wallflower. Meet a lot of people, but don’t try to meet everyone. It’s just not plausible, realistic, or authentic.

An example of this for me would be when I met the very talented web designer Barron Cuadro at WDS. I had seen his name and comments around the web before the event, but had never met before. We ended up talking a few different times there and stayed in touch in the months after.

Since WDS, Barron has even referred a few clients to me that I’ve done web design work for. Even though I wasn’t directly trying to make a potential business connection with him, these types of partnerships easily happen when you open yourself to meeting new people.

Don’t Let the Connections End

When the event is over, don’t go back into your comfortable box and run your website or business like you didn’t just attend a conference. Start connecting with people immediately. Make a list on the trip home of all of the great people you met, how you want to connect with them, and what you are going to do to help them. (Notice I didn’t say help you.)

By connecting immediately after the event you will show initiative, the person will remember who you are, and you can turn your single conversations into longer lasting friendships.

Follow up slowly, but with a purpose. Don’t just blast a single line email to every person you met. Take some time to research the people you met, what they are up to, and how you can add value to what they’re doing.

This amount of effort will be evident in the first message they get from you. Get on a few Skype calls with people you really hit it off with. Don’t let the momentum die.

Through the connections I made before, during, and after WDS I was able to get the opportunity to work with Corbett, get some immediate exposure to my blog when Chris linked to directly to my weekend recap, and get the last piece of courage I needed to step away from my corporate gig.

I’d say the conference was a pretty good return on investment for me. It changed the path of my life more than I ever could have imagined.

Regardless of whether your next conference is a typical boring business affair, or an electrifying event like WDS, try my tips above to make sure you walk away with some incredible new opportunities.

Have you been to in-person events in the past that made a significant impact on your life, website, or business?

What’s the next event you are looking forward to attending? How do you plan to make the most of it?

I’m so happy to be helping out here at Think Traffic, and I can’t wait to meet and talk with more of you. Please leave a comment below and say hello. You can also reach me via email directly: caleb@thinktraffic.net.

Photos by Armosa Studios: 1 2

Written by . Caleb Wojcik is one of the 3 C's at Think Traffic and Fizzle.co. He writes at CalebWojcik.com and hosts the Cubicle Renegade Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @CalebWojcik.


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Sarah Russell August 25, 2011 at 6:24 am

Very insightful stuff, Caleb. Like you, I’ve been to plenty of boring day job conferences where my only goals are to make it to the end of the day without hating myself and to figure out how to sleep through presentations without anyone catching on.

But I’m planning to attend the WDS next year, which will be my first internet business conference, and I couldn’t be more excited about spending the weekend with inspiring people who are doing amazing things. I’ll definitely bookmark this post to come back to and review as that gets closer!

Thanks for sharing :)

Caleb Wojcik August 25, 2011 at 10:34 am

I wouldn’t even label WDS as an “internet business conference”. I would steal Chris’s name for it: The Heart Attack of Awesome.

Ash @ The Middle Finger Project August 25, 2011 at 6:33 am

What’s up, Caleb! Congrats on the new spot!

Caleb Wojcik August 25, 2011 at 10:32 am

Thanks Ash! :)

Elana Miller August 25, 2011 at 7:19 am

Hey Caleb, that’s awesome you had such a great experience at WDS. I’m on the list for next year and really looking forward to the opportunity to meet/connect with some of the bloggers and entrepreneurs I admire.

Caleb Wojcik August 25, 2011 at 10:35 am

I hope you can make it next year Elana. It was an amazing event.

David Krug August 25, 2011 at 9:07 am

Welcome aboard Caleb I look forward to reading more of your posts!

Caleb Wojcik August 25, 2011 at 10:35 am

Thanks David. I’m really glad to be a part of the Think Traffic team and I’m excited for all of the big things we have in the works.

Barron August 25, 2011 at 9:55 am

Congrats on the new posish, Caleb! Corbett’s like a modern day slave driver and he’s terribly naggy, so you’re gonna have a horrible time working with him. :)

Caleb Wojcik August 25, 2011 at 10:36 am

Oh man, you should have warned me! Haha ;)

Benny August 25, 2011 at 12:09 pm

The boss is away, when is it time to play? :)

Congrats on the new position Caleb! It’s great to see you moving to bigger things. It’s been a pretty great year for you I’d say.

Caleb Wojcik August 25, 2011 at 1:57 pm

I’d say so too Benny! And for you as well. Just saw your Photo 365 app on the “app of the week” spot. Congrats man!

Mike August 25, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Congrats on the new gig!

We met by the pure chance of sitting next to each other and talking up a conversation. Definitely meeting you and the other peeps are the best part of the WDS.

Caleb Wojcik August 25, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Thanks Mike. You are another one of the great connections I made at WDS and I can’t wait to meet more people next year.

Martina Iring August 25, 2011 at 5:48 pm

Welcome Caleb! You sure started off with a bang. Terrific post – I will definitely reference it again.

Caleb Wojcik August 26, 2011 at 8:46 am

Thank you Martina! I plan to use a similar approach for when I go to the Financial Bloggers Conference in about a month.

John Corcoran August 26, 2011 at 10:05 am

Welcome, Caleb. I hadn’t heard of the WDS but I checked it out and it looks awesome – I’d love to go. Plus, Portland is amazing. And congrats on your wedding!

Caleb Wojcik August 26, 2011 at 10:24 am

Thank you John. More information about next year’s event should be coming out soon.

Hugh August 29, 2011 at 8:49 am

Thanks for the great post, Caleb, and congrats on the new gig! I just finished reading Keith Ferazzi’s “Never Eat Alone” and he has a chapter in there titled, “Be a Conference Commando.” Your recommendations are similar to his and they’re all awesome. (That book is a great read, by the way!) I have been to too many “day-job conferences” and can’t wait to attend WDS next year. I read the recent NY Times “36 Hours in Portland” feature and am super excited.

Mary September 14, 2011 at 1:36 pm

I love the chosen topic and look forward to watching this project unfold!

Omar Zenhom October 6, 2013 at 7:24 am

Nice one Caleb. Just reading this after you mentioned it on the Fizzle Show- gearing up for WDS 2014. Our first time. I’ll re-read this then, just before we go. Should be a blast. Hope to see you there!

Michael Taylor October 9, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Caleb, I heard you mention this blog post on The Fizzle Show today. I am going to my first bloggers’ conference next week, FinCon13. Thanks for the tips! I’ll put them to good use.

Michael

Sarah Russell August 26, 2011 at 7:17 pm

Hahaha – Just wait until I tell my husband that I’m going to Portland next summer for a “Heart Attack of Awesome”… That should go over well :)

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