How to get the most out of a business conference

How to make the most of a business conference

Business conferences offer a myriad of benefits to you as a business owner or leader. Learning from others is one of the best things you can do to help grow your business and to also develop yourself personally. This is so important; you need to have an understanding of what’s happening in your industry, with your competitors, what your customers want, and the wider world.  Things change at a rapid rate and attending both general business conferences and industry specific ones can be a lifeline. There are several ways you can maximise the potential for networking and increase your company visibility at a business conference.

Each conference will be different and have varying topics, speakers and agendas. The reason you choose to attend any particular conference might depend on your own company purpose, mission and vision. The conferences you attend will be specific to your overall goals, who you want to hear from or meet and the types of people or businesses you are wanting to reach. There might be times when a conference makes sense and other times when it could be a drain on your time and resources. For example, we attend BrightonSEO regularly which is the most popular search marketing conference in Europe. It is industry specific, affordable and accessible, and the takeaways are invaluable to us. We also attend the Brighton Summit which is a general business conference known for offering a certain type of fun and memorable inspiration unique only to Brighton. We don’t prioritise conferences that are too generic, expensive, or ones that are not accessible. That might change over time as we grow as a company, but for now, the ones we attend fit in with our company goals and values.

Taking things a step further and actually getting involved as a speaker, sponsor or even as an organiser can really boost your company visibility and ensure that you’re meeting and connecting with the right people too. To provide you with some useful ways you can make the most out of a business conference by getting involved, here are a few stories.

Clare Griffiths, educator, advocate for women in business and the founder of The Thrive Effect, has extensive experience helping to organise business conferences across the UK and beyond. In doing so, she’s positioning herself as a leader and influencer in her field. She says:

“As someone who relishes learning new things, I am a big fan of conferences – if they are designed and delivered well. I have been involved in organising a number of conferences as an entrepreneurship educator and as a small business owner. My most memorable conference was one I organised in partnership with a peer from Canterbury Christ Church University. We hosted a  a conference aimed at entrepreneurship educators from other universities from across the UK. We wanted to make the conference really memorable, so as well as curating a diverse range of interactive workshops and seminars led by subject specialists (which is obviously crucial!), we also wanted our delegates to have a laugh. So, in attempt to get the delegates interacting with each other in a fun, informal way, we gave all 120 delegates wristbands so that they could go on limitless rides on Brighton pier! We then hosted a fish & chips dinner in the restaurant there, so that delegates could continue their conversations and network in a calmer setting.

For me, when you get involved in organising conferences, not only do you benefit from positioning yourself as a key opinion leader within your industry, you also get to make your mark on the learning activities you create for your delegates. I thoroughly enjoy planning and hosting conferences and am looking forward to the next one I get involved in.”

Brighton based Pragmatic, the UK’s leading WordPress agency, recruit directly from conferences. In particular, they’re often seen at WordCamps (global WordPress conferences) as attendees, sponsors and organisers so have a great opportunity to identify and get to know potential hires. People Operations Director, Tom Chute, says:

“One of the best ways to meet potential team mates is at industry conferences. If I’m recruiting for a specific role, I find talks and topics that the ideal candidate would be interested in, for example: a deep-dive into JavaScript, and then hangout before and after the talks trying to chat to people – a bit stalkery but it works! Attending talks also gives you a heads-up on the hot topics to discuss with potential recruits – if they are talking about projects that involve cutting edge ideas, chances are they’re going to be super engaged and push forward what your business can do. I also follow the event hashtag to see who’s talking about areas we’re recruiting for, and respond to tweets asking if the tweeters would be interested in a coffee. Final tip is to get in with the organisers. The people that have put the event together will know about the after parties and more secret socials. These events tend to attract the people who are deeply involved in the industry, and you might bump into the harder-to-find talent!”

This tried and tested pragmatic approach absolutely works and has resulted in some excellent results for the agency which ultimately enables them to grow and further develop their expertise. Tommy Ferry, a WordPress developer at the company describes his experience, from the side of the recruit.

“I’m actually an almost direct hire from WordCamp London 2017. From my point of view Pragmatic had a lot of the team at the conference, which gave them a big presence, and I got the chance to chat to people in a couple of different roles to find out more about the whole company. Chatting to them at the WordCamp social made it pretty clear that they were (are) a fun bunch and I’d click with them on a personal level, making me feel comfortable around them and ultimately made me want to apply to work with them.”

For us as well, WordCamps are high on our list of conferences to attend, speak at and also to help with the running of them. Getting involved on all of those levels at such an industry specific event keeps us informed and up to date. It also offers a valuable opportunity to connect and establish relationships with fellow experts and business owners who work in our field locally, nationally and internationally.

Furthermore, we are taking a leaf out of our own ‘play book’ and making the most out of a new business conference by aligning ourselves as the marketing partner for Re: Engage 2020. This is a brand new fast-paced, future-focused event exploring inclusive marketing and will be held at The Brighton Centre. Mark your calendars! Re: Engage 2020 organisers Sarah Harrison and Jana Lyon are currently speaking to sponsors and partners so get in touch with them now to be involved.

We are also the marketing partner and on the advisory committee for the inaugural Worthing Summit run by the Worthing & Adur Chamber of Commerce and Meg is one of the workshop leaders. Getting involved at this level helps us to stand out from the crowd – businesses get to know us and what we do – and we learn and develop ourselves and our company. Plus, we get to work with some fantastic people!

Meg Fenn's talk at Worthing Summit
Worthing Summit, September 11, 2019

If you have something to offer an event or conference organiser that would add value to them and also help achieve your company goals, why not include partnering or sponsoring as part of your overall strategy? Or, simply put yourself forward to help with the planning and execution of your favourite type of conference.

For some practical networking tips which can be applied to conference-going, please read our previous post on networking tips.

If you have a story about making the most out of a business conference, please share it in the comments below, we’d love to hear it.

Meg Fenn, Director of Shake It Up Creative