Five Ways to Extract Real Value from Any Conference

Last week I went to the well-attended GROWtalks event here in Vancouver. Overall, the event was well worth the time and money. The focus on product development, content strategy and user acquisition was helpful to any technology entrepreneur.

But the real value in attending events like this was not found in any of the speakers’ presentations; it was the networking that goes on before, during and after the event.

These events provide invaluable networking opportunities because of the people they bring together. Everyone under that same roof shares similar interests, passions or skills. And those similarities mean that there are countless people that can add value to your ideas, bring creative insight to your challenges, or provide validation for the path you are on.

With that in mind, I’ve listed five 5 things that you should do to take advantage of the biggest opportunity that conferences provide:


1. Meet the Speakers

If you hear a talk that is particularly helpful, meet the speaker. Thank them for their presentation and give them a specific, genuine reason for why it was helpful to you.

Worst case scenario, you exchange pleasantries with someone that gave you valuable insight into an issue you’re wrestling with; best case, that person becomes engaged by what you’ve shared, and offers you some tailored advice that might be beneficial. The content of the presentation is the perfect ice-breaker for conversation, so take advantage.


2. Don’t Commit to the Presentations

Guess when I had my most valuable conversation at GROWtalks … during one of the talks. I wasn’t in the auditorium disrupting others, don’t worry. I was out in the foyer having a coffee. One of the things I’ve learned is that the worst time to get a real discussion going is during the scheduled breaks. It’s just too chaotic, and the limited time puts people into a mode of desperate attempts to sell their business or execute their not-so-subtle agenda.

If you’ve met someone worth chatting with more, invite them sit-out during one of the talks. Or, just take a break from a talk to meet some of the people that are already taking a breather out in the foyer. Don’t be overly committed to attending all of the presentations. Instead, be open to networking opportunities that may be better worth your time.

3. Try to Meet People in the Same Boat

The challenges you are facing with your business are not novel. Chances are there are a number of other people at the event that have faced or are facing the same ones. So seek out people that might have ideas about the issues you are wrestling with. You will find your conversations will be much more in-depth, and as a result, you will get much more valuable advice. This also makes for the beginnings of much stronger relationships.

Don’t be scared to share the challenges you are confronting. Every entrepreneur faces challenges—only by sharing them can you get optimal advice.


4. No Value in the Connection? Connect Them

Not everyone you talk to will have insights to the issues you’re thinking about most. Instead of just wrapping up the conversation to move on though, think about how you can connect this person to someone that might actually get value from it.

At GROWtalks, I had the pleasure of introducing two people that are dealing with unique licensing issues. The original conversation brought no value to me, but I knew a friend that would benefit from exchanging ideas on the issue. Through that, I was able to bring great value to an important relationship of mine, which was incredibly rewarding. 


5. Don’t Check your Phone During the Breaks

Do that during the presentations. It always confuses me when people stand at the frays of an event during reception periods browsing their phone or typing emails. I get that people are busy, but if you’re not at the event to engage other people, you’re wasting your time and money.

Put the phone away and introduce yourself to a few people. Or, if you’re not as confident, just wait for someone to introduce themselves to you. But leave the phone in your pocket; you aren’t approachable if your head is buried in it.


My Challenge for You

I challenge you to make networking the primary focus of the next event you attend. If you can take away some tips and encouragement from the presentations, great; but you will find that the there is much more to gain from these events if you focus on building relationships with people in your professional community.

Remember my five tips when you do that and this will be a challenge with big rewards.