Navigating Business Conferences

Live Conferences

Live conferences are back, and I’m looking forward to them! Although there are a lot of great learning opportunities online, there is no substitute for the real human connections at a great conference. In this article, we discuss how to get the most out of business and trade conferences.

In the bookkeeping and accounting world, conference season runs for about six months, from June to early December. Conferences scheduled during tax season don’t draw the audience they could, if only they were happening when bookkeepers and accountants aren’t buried in tax returns.

Conferences are often fun. They usually have great opportunities to learn and connect with industry peers. A lot of relationships begin at conferences that can become friendships and business partnerships in the future.

Budgeting for Conferences

The costs of attending conferences can add up. Travel costs, accommodations, and food only get you there.

This year, with the increased price of pretty much everything, it’s even more important to understand what you can afford. The price of admission is only the beginning. There may also be travel costs, such as airline tickets or parking, accommodations, meals that aren’t a part of the conference and other incidental expenses.

Products and services are often sold at conferences. If you’re buying something, make sure you need it, want it and can afford it. One good way to prepare is to take stock of your needs and budget. Presentations at conferences are often designed to encourage an emotional response and immediate purchase. Sometimes, these impulse buys can really hurt if you don’t make good use of them. Remember, you’re there to grow your business, not run it dry.

The increase in virtual conferences creates a lot of opportunities to attend events you otherwise couldn’t afford to attend. However, there is no online substitute for the synchronicity of starting up a conversation with a stranger in the hall or in line. Some of my best connections have been made this way. Sometimes spending the extra money to actually go is well worth it.

Your Conference Strategy

When deciding which conferences to attend, define what you’re looking to accomplish.

Do you need new technology?

Who are your target new customers?

Is a better supplier in the cards?

Are you looking for good learning opportunities?

Will you want to connect with peers?

Goal Setting

What are your goals for this conference season?

The more specific you are with goal setting, the better you’ll be able to position yourself for success. For instance, if your goal is to meet new customers, an industry conference that your target customers might attend a good place to start. If your goal is to improve your supply chain, a conference featuring vendors that sell into your industry would be a better fit.

Pick the Right Conferences

Step one to getting the most out of conference season is to pick the right conferences to attend. This year, I’ll be attending QuickBooks Connect Canada (virtual), CPB (Certified Professional Bookkeepers of Canada) Ignite and QuickBooks Connect Global (live).  There are a few other virtual conferences that I’ll sign up for, but pick and choose the sessions I want to attend.

Be Prepared

Being prepared for a conference requires more than knowing your budget. Make sure you have reviewed the agenda beforehand to know if you can sign up for your most desired sessions before they’re full. It hurts to miss the session you really wanted to attend.

You should also make it known that you’ll be at the conference. At KATA, we discuss these things on social media, call colleagues and vendors we want to meet with ahead of time, and discuss with colleagues what they are looking to get out of the conference.

We also take our phones, of course. This allows us to exchange information with new colleagues we meet and take pictures. And just like with holidays, let your customers and clients know that you’ll be away.

Many conferences encourage sharing of what’s happening through social media, so I’ll often live-Tweet what I’m getting out of the conference. I’ll frequently make posts on Facebook and Instagram or LinkedIn when I get some time.

Plan for a conference like you would any other business event. Bring appropriate clothing, lots of business cards (if you still use them) and prepare some canned emails ahead of time. When you meet someone or get a business card, canned emails can help you reinforce the connection you made in real life.

This is also a good opportunity to think about and practice your elevator pitch. While you’re organically building relationships, it’s important to speak clearly about what you do and how you help your customers. Ensure your website and social media handles are up to date with your profile information and picture. People often forget to update their pictures, which can impact the first impression negatively.

Connect at Conferences

It’s important to connect with new people and old friends at conferences. Relationships can’t be replaced by computers. They are the foundation of any small business. When you meet someone new, make sure you connect with them on an ongoing basis. Exchange contact information – and use it in the future.

Follow-up After the Conference

It’s important to tell people what you got out of the conference. Not only does it demonstrate that you are continually learning about your industry, positioning you as a thought leader, but it also gives people a better idea if this conference would be good for them to attend.

Most importantly, reach out to new and old contacts after the conference and keep connected with them on an ongoing basis. If you meet someone, but never connect afterwards, they’re still a stranger and won’t add to your network. Make sure you develop those connections.

What Are Your Takeaways?

Not everyone has the same pattern of behaviour at conferences. Some people, like me, want to learn as much as they can and be extremely social. Others would rather attend the key sessions they want to attend and just relax the rest of the time.

What do you look forward to most when it comes to attending conferences?

What conferences are you planning to attend this year? And more importantly, why?

What are you doing to prepare for conference season?

Share your answers on social media now.