by Larry Chiang
This is a big weekend.
It is finally here. BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas.
I have been called a conference professional. Why?! I go with the express written intention to ace the conference and boost my personal stock. I am the opposite of Machiavellian in my approach because I clearly state the focus of my conference attending experience.
These tips are part of my platform, “What They Don’t Teach You At Stanford Business School”.
In this post, I break down conference fundamentals. In keeping with the Las Vegas spirit of earning a win, preparing to do well and getting lucky (or as Mark Cuban says, “wanting to win is easy, but preparing to win isn’t”), here are twenty-one tips.
-1- Fly Right. First realize that there is high likelihood there will be conference attendees on the same flight and the airport is a captive networking opportunity. Maximize meet-ups by waiting at the gate versus the club lounge. Holding a sign-up is cheesey-scary-genius, but an industry related book is ideal to signal.
Also, forgo the free upgrade and fraternize in the cheap seats. The rationale is that five good peeps you see and meet in coach is way better than one fat cat up in 1st. Your 1K elite flight status isn’t a complete waste, you can still pre-board and bring a buddie, so make a new friend.
-2- Pre-Conference Networking! This critical manuver gets you 6-10 solid contacts. Work the RSVP list like a tri Delt sorority girl from Arizona State University dialing for dollars. Meet them via LinkedIn, Spoke, Twitter, Facebook or their blog. Expect that 15% of the list won’t show but be aware of an extra 15% that will show.
-3b- Get Jiggy With the Jargon. Leverage conference buzzwords to introduce yourself to panelists, attendees, speakers and conference organizers. For example, scrape Twitter, Google and Summize for the key conference terminology and nomenclature. For example, Tim OReilly’s Foo Camp 2009 would prompt ‘foo camp 2008′, ‘#foocamp08′, ‘alpha Tech Ventures’ and “@timOreilly” searches. Take those results and start palm-pressing (aka saying “hi”) via Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed, wiki, conference guestbook and/or attendees’ blogs.
-3c- Ask for pre-conference introductions. Get warm intros to speakers via email from a mutual work friend. You might need to lay out an email for the introducer. You will more likely ace the conference by lining up meetings with industry leaders and ‘hitters’.
-4- Work the Secret Society VIP list. My best inside tip is to bribe the conference PR girl to reveal last minute A-list bloggers and reporters to you.
-4b- Work the Secret Society VIP & attendee list some more. This time tip the Bell Captain in charge of early am newspaper distribution $2/attendee to attach some ‘brand-my-company’ leaflets. It works well to staple a “Welcome to TechCrunch 50″ to a Wall Street Journal or Economist magazine. Bonus bonus if your company is also on page 3. Minus minus if your CEO has a print ad running from his modeling agency days on p25.
-4c- Promote a secret society of your own. How?! Host a non conference approved happy hour. Picture a par-for-the-course conference at boring hotel #9. Within the mix of stale meeting rooms and stuffy ballrooms is your ‘secret’ hosted reception in a top-floor suite.
Critical components to a well produced ‘secret’ happy hour include blurbing word of the event to critical co-hosts. The co-hosts promote it to their crew of friends. Word-of-mouth is critical. In the same way that college student text message each other about good deals, people will buzz about your party.
-4d- Sharing, feeding and getting a theme. An option is to let the secret out of the bag with signage through out the hotel and posting on the hotel meeting TV bulletin board. I prefer hosting with some food or at least having pizza delivered.
I love themed happy hours with guest interaction (e.g. a pirate on the high seas). You can tag stickers on their name badges and dole out party favors.
-4e- Off the deep end. Get a confernce post party going by having your CEO make in-suite chocolate chip pancakes. Don’t offer utensils and wait for the sticky fun to begin. Leave the HR and legal team at home or in the dark.
-5- Prep your elevator pitch of who you are and what you do. This should coincide with your conference thesis and focus. For example, if I go to a technology conference, my soundbyte is, “I head up a company that does FICO preparation for college students and I’m here to see how people
send text messages from a ten digit number.
-6- Kiss alpha, gamma and beta ass. Don’t make the mistake of just being a star-chaser and only kissing alpha ass. Kissing gamma and beta ass means being nice to assistants & staffers (gammas)and of course fellow attendees (betas).
An extreme example is to kiss check-in staffer ass by making your check-in process turn into a vacation FOR THEM. (See diagram XII Diagram of conf Totem Pole. Mother Hen, Chair, speakers, keynoter, panelist, lunch Keynoter, break out session speaker, attendee Important vs Involved)
Kudos if you smoke out the conference producer and PR point people. (See diagram XII checkin booth lay-out). If they’re a self-published blogger or frequent commenter on TechCrunch/SiliconBeat/GigaOm, wax on about how you took notes on their comment.
-7- Multiple Targets, Multiple Bogies. This means attending conferences with your team. ‘Targets’ are people to meet. Bogies are conference signal noise that come in the form of seller/beggar/moocher and cause interference. When you go to a conference with a team, you’ll (a) need a ‘control’ that acts as a “central command”, (b) tight leashes on 1st time conference attendees, (c) ass early am meetings and (d) clear team objectives.
-7b- Targets and Bogies at a Booth. If y’all have a conference booth, you’ll want to get a clear booth schedules, hire traffic stoppers (aka booth babes), hand out premiums, collect and rate leads every half-day and book second meetings for execs.
See diagram BOOTH
-8- Coincide your local media appearance in and around the conference. Nothing legitimizes you more than a local TV news show interview. Another gambit is having a photographer shoot you while you’re on a panel or walking the expo floor
Don’t over do it by loading up YouTube clips on your iPhone jacked into flat panel displays on perpetual repeat unless you’re 80% as cute as this shih tzu .
-9- Get in early and leave late. The old way was to ‘big league’ by flying in late and flying out early. You as the newly minted grad, doused in the scent of presidential timber, need to outwork, outflank and outshine industry veterans and stalwarts.
-10- Investing in Conference Treasure. Hey, you spent $250k going to b-school (or saved $250k by NOT going), so why not tip bribe and comp $200.00 (of your own money) to boost your conference visibilty or springboard to your conference goals. I’m not recommending going into credit card debt, but manage your treasure to make more treasure (Chapter 2 of my book, “What They Dont Teach You At Stanford Business School”)
-11- Peak on the Last Day. Conserve your energy and don’t make career stalling mistakes when you’re tired. Ideally, you and your effervescence still glow on Day 3 of a three day conference.
-12- Take Conference Notes. Is the panel on ‘Monetization of Social Networking’ putting you to sleep?! Taking paper notes is a lost art but clear dividends include compiling post conference ‘To-Do’s, tracking who you sat with and when so you can follow up, clearing the conference haze of who will refer what and when, cutting and pasting a good panel idea for your own SXSW presentation and my favorite… ripping off an entire keynote to place into your book, “What They Dont Teach You At Stanford Business School” . I also take pictures of my notes and tag them on facebook.
-12b- I also do something very old school… if there’s a person I’d like to do business with that ISN’T going to the conference, Ill offer to fax notes to them. My new school gambit; if/when I hear of someone get cited at a conference (e.g. Ted Rhinegold of Dogster or Seth Sternberg at Meebo) I’ll text message them. I out note take every GSBer I’ve ever met.
Conferences are like school
-13a- Don’t Forget to Pack School Supplies
- Sharpie or Chiesel Tip Colored Sharpie
- Business cards (and if you’re fancy a personal card if you’re job shopping)
- Fraiche Frozen Yogurt gift cards. Or Starbux to hand out to helpful people not in Palo Alto CA
- Business card holder. Its a three ring binder compatible holder that sits in a plastic sleeve. Biz cards will get lost in a shuffle. Diagram 9.
- Easel boards they’ll have there but post-it nores you’ll have to swipe
- FedEx return ship labels (bonus if its your agency shipper number). You can also hand these out to people who don’t want to carry their conference binder back with them
- EXTRA CREDIT bring a branded binder, lanyard or chain for your name badge, stickers for your name badge holder
If you HAVE to talk during class…
-13b– Side Bar Ettiquette
If you’re gonna talk to your neighbor its 10x for classy to jot a note or text them. If you’re the CEO chatting with post panel fans, take it outside the ballroom or risk getting chased by a gamma attendee trying to learn. A gamma is a lower tier business executive just starting career.
-14- Kiss Conference Chairperson Ass. If you’re a pro, you’ll get migrated from attendee to VIP when this alpha mentions you from the podium. You will reach stratospheric status if they walk you around the room introducing you. Brown nosing is gross now that I live in SF, but tastefully kissing ass right near the crack is how you escalate to VIP status.
-15- Work in comforting 10 wall flowers. Ten per conference is very good but ten per day is legendary. It is best to mingle as a single conference attendee whereas packs of two tend to rockpile (where the two stones cling to each other and not meet others). Build your karma and you might accidentally meet your next $20mm client.
-16- Promote something for someone without any benefit to yourself.
-17- Solidify and simplify your brand at the conference. Me, I’m the FICO guy that can answer credit questions and I’ve helped dozens of people I’ve met at conference mixers raise their credit score. I wrote a GigaOm article helping and I can help you too. Ideally, your brand is easy enough to regurgitate after two martinis, four hours of sleep over continental breakfast while on a blackberry.
-18- Sleep Right @ Conference Hotel. Try to stay at hotel where the conference is, sleep at least three hours, avoid roomates, work out at least 10 minutes. If the hotel is full, waitlist (love the waitlist and read GigaOm tip #5 ) yourself. Try to never ever
_booty call an attendee
_ stay with a friend that lives in the city,
_ meet up with friends from that city
-18b- Manage your conference libido. Just because you tipped 3 nickels for the two class room upgrade as per my previous Amazon post, it doesn’t mean you need to show off by inviting people up.
-18c- Remember, ace three conferences a year and you can live like an oil baron and rent out an entire floor. But while you’re a new GSBer, leave your new dating interest a note under her door.
-19- Conference Man-charm . In Wall Street, Bud Fox says to his mentor, “I’ve always dreamed of one thing and that to do business with a man like yourself”. Saying it with flowers is over-the-top, but sending a fruit basket is ‘PRO!’. Read more on “man Charm” in my GigaOm post.
-20- Post Conference To-Do’s. Two or three conference follow-ups can add to the fun part of the 80-20 rule. Translation, follow-ups are easy and very beneficial. Basics include logging contacts’ business cards, adding cell phone numbers, tagging some Facebook photos and pushing people along the deal process. Advanced tips include calendarization of which conference VIP I will follow-up with in Outlook. Because of notes I took, I will be 13 for 13 in conference follow-up.
-21- Goal Set. People love people moving towards something. Me?, I’m rocketship towards 11-11-11 . It has the innuendo of all ones in a row implying an on-time payment. By November 11, I will have booked 2,000,000 students with a FICO of 750. I’ve another goal… migrating myself from conference attendee to Chairperson
Fail Upwards And Waitlist Yourself For a Conference. If you’re not crashing and burning twice a year, maybe you’re not reaching high enough. Similarly, if you’re not getting towed twice a year, maybe you’re not parking aggressively enough.
Best of luck to you… and if you hear of a fun conference you’d like me to crash (or keynote at 🙂 , text me 650-283-8008 . And don’t forget to ‘buy’ a copy of my free book. http://www.whattheydontteachyouatstanfordbusinessschool.com/