So many new business owners and entrepreneurs see events like conferences and conventions as simple networking opportunities. They go, attend a few panels, walk the merch hall and maybe even have a few conversations with the people who happen to sit or stand next to them. Worse, some simply wander and then leave, without ever making a single connection! Then they go home, ready to implement the different things they’ve learned and the products they’ve purchased.
This is certainly a way to go. But, just like there are lots of ways for young leaders to really stand out among their peers, there are lots of ways to stand out and cement your leadership within your field while you simultaneously market yourself and your business at a conference or convention.
Be a Speaker
Instead of just attending panels, why not be a speaker at one? There are a few ways that you can do this. One of the easiest is to simply email the event organizers and let them know that you are available to fill spaces in panels that might need more people. Another is to connect with the speakers you know will be there and offer to help them out. Speaking on a panel is a great way to network both with other attendees and with leaders within your industry (particularly those who are on the panel with you). It is also a great way to prove your expertise and to win over any people who might have been holding out on whether or not to join your audience.
Host a Panel or Talk
Another great way to build your business and audience is to host some of the programming at the event. Conferences and conventions are always looking for people who have an interesting take on something that happens within the industry (or that they wish happened within the industry). Check out the website for the convention you’ll be attending. Most have online panel submission forms. Fill it out and send it in! The great thing about hosting a panel is that you establish your place as The One in Charge but you, ultimately, let your panelists do most of the talking. It’s a great way for people who might feel apprehensive about talking in front of a group still lead the audience and panlists in a great conversation.
PRO TIP: You’ll stand a better chance of having your panel accepted if you line up a few speakers ahead of time and can list them on your application.
Buy Advertising Space
Conventions are rife with advertising opportunities. You can buy space on their printed materials. You can supply something small to include in the event’s swag bag. One of the best, though, is to advertise within the event’s mobile app. More and more convention and conference organizers are choosing to use event apps for their programs and updates. According to DoubleDutch, “A sponsored microapp offers a high level of exposure and virtually connects the sponsor to every app user.”
Another great bonus for this is that most of the attendees at conventions assume that anybody who has logo or name space on the event signage is high up within that field’s niche. You’ll establish your leadership without having to fight for it.
PRO TIP: Use the app to connect in real time with event attendees! Many of these apps offer real time communication with other people attending the event. Ask for feedback on your talk, thank someone for stopping by, simply say hi to one of the event organizers–use the app as a communication tool as well as an advertising tool. Word of mouth is still the most powerful form of advertising out there!
Buy Booth Space
You’ve undoubtedly walked the merch floor at a few conferences and conventions by now. Why not buy space for yourself? Running your own booth gives you a “home base” at these events and, if you do it well, can be a great way to network and spread the word about your business. You can even use your booth space to sell branded merchandise or your products. This is a great chance for you to really lead your team to success. Train your booth helpers on how to approach attendees, how to get people to take your information or buy your stuff and how to bond with people to help build your brand’s audience. Remember: you cannot run a booth by yourself all the time. Teach the people who help you how to best represent your brand!
PRO TIP: Offer a few smaller freebie-type items along with the things you’re trying to sell for a profit. Buttons, magnets, stickers, pens, notepads–these are all great ways to make sure that people literally take a reminder of your business with them when they leave your booth.
These are just four of the ways that you can really attract attention at conferences and events. There are others, of course. You can hold “ninja gigs” both at and near the event. You can become one of the event’s official sponsors. If you are particularly gregarious you can simply attend and make a point to network and trade information with a few people at every panel you attend and during every hour you spend walking the merch hall. Get creative!