Drawing on his own experience, Quirk's Editor Joseph Rydholm offers a dozen pieces of advice for researchers planning to attend trade shows and conferences.
As a companion to the marketing research events calendar that we run in every issue (page 66), this month we’re debuting a twice-yearly conference preview section (page 20), covering events from March to July. (The August issue’s conference preview will cover the August 2014 to early-2015 period.)
While gathering information for the preview section, my co-editor Emily Goon and I started trading conference experiences and pet peeves, which spurred us to assemble the following list of tips. We'd love to hear from you with any additional ideas and advice that we can pass along to your fellow conference-goers!
Review the program ahead of time. Kind of a duh, but by mapping out your plan of attack, you’ll make sure you don’t miss out on anything. And if it looks like there are too many worthwhile talks happening concurrently, maybe you can arrange to exchange notes with a friend or colleague.
Familiarize yourself with the venue. Walk around the property to get the lay of the land. Hotel meeting rooms are often scattered over multiple floors and their cutesy, themed names (Peach Blossom I, Peach Blossom II) usually offer no locational help.
Partner-up! First-timer or newbie? Many events have pre-conference meet-ups for new attendees, along with mentor programs where veterans can show you the ropes. You’ll get to know the show better and you also might make some valuable contacts!
Download the conference app. Not all event apps are created equal. Some are buggy and slow; some work like a charm. But you should still check them out, as the good ones are packed with helpful information.
Hashtag it. If you tweet, use the dedicated conference hashtag to get your sage observations into the larger conversation and to connect with more of your peers.
Be considerate. If you’re just going to check e-mail while you’re in a session, either don’t bother going (your seat could be used by someone else who really wants to be there!) or sit in the back. Put yourself in the presenter’s shoes: If you’ve crafted a presentation, do you really want to look out to a sea of downturned heads and scrolling thumbs?
Arrive early. Excited to hear a speaker? Get there early, as others probably feel the same way. It’s much easier to concentrate sitting in a chair than if you’re standing pressed up against the back wall of the meeting room.
Stay late. To maximize networking opportunities, attend the conference-organized events (meals, cocktail hours, evening excursions). You might be tired at the end of the day but this is often where the best contacts are made.
Pack a ton of business cards. If you don’t plan to be meeting people and handing them out, at least bring enough to drop in all the fishbowls so you can be eligible to win the vendor giveaways.
Bring snacks. Believe it or not, conference-going can be hard work. The days are long, the lunches can be of varying quality and the mid-morning and mid-afternoon food and beverage options can sometimes be few. Keep yourself hydrated and also pack some granola bars or other portable snacks.
Take it easy on the booze. Sure, the conference receptions are great (who doesn’t love free beer and wine?) but just remember that sessions usually start at 8 a.m. each day and you don’t want to miss hearing that A-list keynote speaker.
Stop by and say hi. We can’t attend every show on the list but Quirk’s will be exhibiting at and/or reporting on many of them. Come by our booth to say hello or grab us in the cocktail parties or at sessions!