January 25, 2016 | Written by: Frank Gullo
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I’ve attended IBM Connect for the past three years, and it’s become one of my favorite business conferences. I like the content, the exchange of ideas, the networking, and the opportunity to recharge by getting out of the office for a few days in a destination where it’s nice and warm in February. I’m also continuously impressed at how much the event organizers are able to pack into a four-day conference.
Besides the keynote and presentations, there are many different ways to engage at this or any event, via event networks, social media, mobile apps, and video. There’s so much, it can honestly be a little overwhelming and you can end up missing a lot of what an event has to offer if you don’t do some prep beforehand. For me, this happened a few years ago when I was at a conference and realized during the closing that I had missed some presentations on the first day that I really wanted to attend. So, for my next conference I blocked off some time in advance to prepare for the event. The prep helped so much I’ve been doing it ever since.
Of course, events are made for serendipity and random collisions too, so there is something to be said for being prepared but not too prepared. Here are 10 simple things you can do to before the conference:
1. Event website
Most events will have a dedicated event website with information about the keynote, sessions, speakers, and business partners. Peruse the site to get a sense of the featured speakers and any special events. Access the public Connect 2016 website here.
Some event websites will allow you to access in-depth event information, create a profile with contact information, build a personalized agenda, and connect with other attendees. This can be especially valuable if you are a presenter so people attending your session can learn more about you before, during, or after the event. If you’re attending Connect 2016, access IBM Event Connect and log in here.
Smartphones and tablets outnumber laptops at conferences now. Event organizers have recognized this by often making available customized event apps. These apps include all the standard event information you would find on an event website and take it a step further by taking advantage of device features like camera, location services, and offline access. The IBM Event Connect is available on the App and Play Stores for Apple and Android devices.
I don’t like to plan my entire event schedule or pick all the sessions I want to attend in advance. Conference white space is important. Some of the best sessions I’ve attended over the years have been based on a quick recommendation in the hallway or because I felt in my gut that the speaker would be interesting. That said, I do load in my calendar the sessions I know I want to attend so I’m reminded on the day of the event when I’m distracted by all the other input and content competing for my attention. IBM Event Connect includes a handy session feature that allows you to browse and add sessions to a personal calendar and export calendar items to load in other calendars.
Social media extends the lifecycle and network reach of an event and enables you to promote and connect with other attendees and interested non-attendees. Activity on social naturally clusters when an event is occurring but some events sustain conversations and momentum for weeks and months before and after the event. IBM Connect has embraced social in all the years I’ve attended and this year looks to be no different. If you want to get a sense of the event pulse before Connect 2016 begins, follow the @IBMConnect and @IBMSocialBiz accounts on Twitter and the hashtag #IBMConnect. On LinkedIn, check out the IBM Social Business Community group.
6. Business cards
It’s a social business digital mobile world, but events still bring together people in person and, like an elegant, simple user interface, sometimes a business card is the best and most usable way to exchange contact information quickly before heading from one session to the next. Before you leave for the conference, make sure you have updated business cards to exchange with the people you’ll meet.
7. Review the sessions
Events that span multiple days may have hundreds of sessions, scheduled in different rooms and buildings. Conference guide books help you visualize the information but you’ll save yourself some time if you’ve already reviewed and added some core sessions to your calendar.
8. Prime your brain
If I’m flying to a conference, I like to get in the mood for ideas and connection by reading a book on the flight, sometimes on a topic that will be presented at the conference. So, invariably the week before an event, you will find me at my local bookstore, considering authors and titles. Your mileage may vary, and you may prefer music, movies, or the absence of content in advance of all the conference content to come.
9. Connect before you connect
Conferences provide a wonderful gathering place to connect in person with professionals you’ve met previously or whom you want to meet in person for the first time. But it works in reverse as well – conferences also provide pretext to re-engage with contacts you haven’t been in touch with in a while before the event to check if they’re attending as well. If they are, you can plan to meet or just look for one another while you’re both at the conference. If they’re not, you can still catch up and inquire how they are. Either way, connecting before you connect is a great way to nurture your network.
10. Pivot when necessary
Of course, even the best plans aren’t foolproof as there are always factors beyond your control. Weather, travel, session technical difficulties, and work emergencies all impact our availability and plans at conferences. Be okay to shift, reschedule and abandon your plan altogether when necessary.
Millions of people attend conferences each year and everyone has a different way of preparing to attend events. The above are just a few suggestions of how I prepare based on my experience attending conferences. What do you do before the conference?