By Koketso Mamabolo
Why would you put your name down for a conference? Around the world, the business community agrees that there are various reasons to attend a conference and at the very heart of this is the community that comes through gathering with others in your industry and, more specifically, the people whom you have the opportunity to network and do business with, and learn from.
But what exactly does networking and learning at conferences entail? And how can you leverage attending a conference to develop your business or personal brand. We take a look at how you can make the best of the opportunities presented at a conference.
Connect with people in your community
Conferences are an opportunity to engage with others in the industry, and gain valuable insight from those with the experience and knowledge. Conferences bring together four general groups:
- Big business
- Public sector
Topco Media CEO Ralf Fletcher refers to conferences as a conductor who brings musicians together to play a wonderful symphony. These four groups often work in silos and are not always presented with the opportunity to form partnerships and close deals.
Big business are the corporations which have established themselves as industry leaders in terms of scale and market influence. Academics are the scholars who research and study the world around them, often applying models of thinking developed in the social sciences to better understand the business world.
Start-ups are companies driven by fresh ideas that break from traditional modes of doing business. They have become synonymous with ‘disruption’, often led by entrepreneurs who bring a different perspective to their counterparts in big business. Lastly we have the public sector, who represent the interests of the broader public.
These four groups have one thing in common, at the heart of what they do is people. For big business and start-ups the people are the customers. For academics the people are the various role players, how they interact with each other and their environment. And for the public sector, the people are exactly that, the public.
Being in the same room with all four groups is rare. Conferences make that possible. The various communities become one. Experience tells us that a conference is an ideal place to create partnerships across communities, which allows each group to connect with each other in order to scale up their brand.
But how do you leverage this stellar opportunity?
- Prepare for the conference. Have an idea beforehand who will be attending the conference, which allows you to be more direct in who you network with.
- Be open-minded. While it is important to know who you want to meet or what you want to discuss, you need to be open to meeting people you weren’t planning to. A system like Topco’s Fast Track Network facilitates connecting conference attendees through randomised, short, one-on-one meetings.
- See every conversation as an opportunity to connect. You never know who you will meet. You could find yourself having a conversation with the CEO of a multinational corporation who is hiring, or looking to form new partnerships.
- Take note of who you are seated with and engage with them. Virtual events allow for attendees to be seated at virtual tables that offer chat functions. Unlike in-person conferences, all you need to do is type a message to connect with another person, without the baggage that can come in social settings.
- Engage on social media. See what attendees are saying about the event on LinkedIn and Twitter. Post, follow, tweet, direct message. Be social.
- Give feedback. Do your own post-event report and engage with the organisers of the conference. Even a simple “thank you” can go a long way.
- Follow up. Once you’ve exchanged details and discussed partnerships, make sure you follow up. Whether that be an email or a message on LinkedIn.
Learn from your community
Conferences are teeming with people and brands that have faced challenges and found ways to overcome those challenges. And a common thread around problem-solving is that those who solve problems are often willing to share how they did.
You also have an opportunity to get insight into trends and the opportunities available in your field. From speakers and other attendees you can learn about approaches and processes that have worked for others.
But how do you make the most of this opportunity?
- Know beforehand what the themes and topics to be discussed are. By planning ahead and researching, you can be more direct in your learning.
- Have an open-mind. Conferences are places where perspectives shift and ways of doing things are updated. While you should be prepared, and know what you are hoping to gain, it is important to come into the conference willing to shed old ways of thinking and ultimately change how you do things. Expect your worldview to be challenged.
- Make use of the tools available on event hosting platforms like Hopin, where virtual conferences are held. Comment sections and chat functions allow anyone to ask a question, unlike in-person conferences where some people are shy, or are limited in what they can ask.
- Continue learning, reinforce lessons learnt. Live sessions at virtual conferences are recorded and archived, allowing you to go back and rewatch what the speaker had to say. One of the ways we learn is repetition. There may be something you missed or something you want to understand better.
- Reflect on the ideas that come out of the conference. If it’s a team attending, take time after the event to sit down and share your experiences with each other. If you are part of a team but attend your own, share with the rest of your team what you gained from the conference and get their thoughts before implementing what you’ve learned.
Conferences feature business opportunities, space to network and build partnerships. They are also perfect places to see where your field is heading and learn from those who have gone through what you are going through, or will go through in the future.