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Eight Things to Keep in Mind Before Your First Convention/Expo

October 23rd, 2009 :: Michael Dougherty

I had the opportunity, at BlogWorldExpo, this year to speak to several people who were attending their very first convention/expo. We talked about the things that were forgotten, the things that you couldn’t plan for, and the things we’ll be doing differently the next time around for the convention.

Now each convention/expo is an experience unto itself, but there are several things you can do prior to a convention that will help you out, regardless of the event. These are the eight things that I map out before I head any convention/expo and, with the exception this year due to poor planning for the red eye flight, have served me extremely well.

And now, in no particular order, I bring you, dear reader, the “Eight things to keep in mind before your first convention/expo”.

  1. Do your homework. What is the location you are going to be like? Are there going to be after parties? Have you reached out to any one you know that has previously attended? This is the best time to really get a feel of what the entire event, and experience, will be like for you. It will be fluid, because things change, but taking the time to do some research on the event, even just for yourself, will give you a greater foot in the door. I know it sounds like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many people I talked to that said things like, “If only I had asked someone before hand” or “I didn’t know that this event was convention/expo was part of a larger event going on at the same time”.
  2. Map out a plan of attack. Most conventions/expos will let you know their intended schedule weeks in advance. This will give you an opportunity to map out what panels/keynotes/seminars you want to attend, decide which luncheon/dinner you may want to skip out on, or what have you. This little bit of pre-planning, plus a good idea of the floor layout, will help you hit the ground running. Know now that, like most things you will experience at a convention/expo, things are subject to change, but at the very least you, if you have a fluid plan, you can adjust on the fly.
  3. Know what you want to get out of it before you sign up. Conventions/Expos are capable of giving you multiple opportunities all at the same time. Networking, education, and product demonstrations are just a few. If you’ve done your homework of asking previous attendees, and you have a pretty good idea of a plan, you can come to an easy assumption of what you want to get out of it. It doesn’t take much time and can be done before you purchase the ticket…say if you have to justify the event to your boss.
  4. Start the talking before you arrive. Feeling like the only person in the building who doesn’t know anyone can really do some damage early on to your experience. With the social media tools we have today, and from your research from #1, find people who are also attending for the first time or have gone and don’t mind a tag along. That way you are starting the convention with a partner in crime. Even if it’s just for a panel or two. You’ll be amazed what one or two introductions will do for your confidence.
  5. Decide now, is this a vacation or work? Some conventions/expos are held in an area that is a destination location for tourists. It can be very tempting to turn this business event into a vacation, but if your intent is to get the most out of the panels/sessions/whatever you need to fully be present. That’s not saying there isn’t time for fun, but if your company is paying for you to go, how do you think they will react if your response to “did you get some networking done” or “did you attend all the panels you told us you would” is “No, I spent a lot of time shopping and sitting by the pool”. That’s probably more of a larger-than-life answer, but you get the idea.
  6. Decide what “prepared” means to you. Will you need multiple pieces of luggage to fit all your stuff? Will you need to send things ahead to the hotel so you aren’t carrying them with you? Will you need to be packed days in advance due to a busy work schedule? Trust me, you don’t want to try to figure out how to pack seven thousand postcards into your carry on luggage. I’ve had that thought and then realized just how heavy those suckers would be. Fortunately, I had that thought weeks early and had the forethought to send 90% of them to the hotel to arrive on the day I did.
  7. Leave early and stay late…if possible. If you can afford to, both financially and time wise, my advise is to head out for your convention a day early and stay a day later. Sometimes you can only do one or the other, but this will give you a little time to collect your hearings from time changes, new locations, and work on your plan of attack. The last thing you want is to start your experience tired, grumpy, or frustrated.
  8. Be not afraid, they are human too. Every convention/expo has its own celebrity. Whether it’s a guest panelist, an actual celebrity, or even your own convention/expo cohorts, they are just human beings…like you. The best thing to do, if you want to approach them, is be respectful of their time and approach them the same way you would want to be approached. Don’t gush over their fame, don’t pitch them on your idea, and thank them for their time.

I know we all have our own tasks, preparations, and rituals before we leave for a trip. I would love to hear your pre-convention rituals. Leave a comment here.

You can also reach me on Twitter by sending a message to @wickedjava, or on Facebook at facebook.com/mcdougherty.

As all ways, if you have been reading, thank you and stay wicked.

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View Comments to “Eight Things to Keep in Mind Before Your First Convention/Expo”

  1. All the covered points are important. Leaving early and staying late really works and one should not be afraid of the celebrity or guest as they are human too. It is important to respect their time.

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