Getting the most out of industry conferences

I recently attended the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA) conference and had a great experience.  This was the first time that I was an actual “attendee” since founding the Service & Support Professionals Association (SSPA) over 22 years ago.  The SSPA has evolved into the TSIA and the conferences are still filled with tons of great content.  Although I am no longer an employee of the TSIA, I am still their biggest supporter and a strong advocate of industry associations in general.

One thing that I have noticed is that most conference attendees really don’t prepare for the actual event.  They just show up and kind of stumble around to see what is happening.  This is a terrible waste of opportunities to enhance your skills, make new connections, and further your career.  Here are a few tips to get the most from every conference that you attend.

First, prepare ahead of time.  Review the detailed agenda and pick the sessions that you really want to see.  The TSIA conference has so many sessions that it is impossible for one person to take advantage of all of the rich content.  The solution is to bring a team of people and divide the session attendance so that key data is collected from as many speakers as possible.  With your team in place, compare notes during the breaks and ensure that the sessions ahead are still the most valuable to your group.  It is not uncommon to find that one topic spurs a strong interest to attend additional sessions focused on this area.  A good example is the number of sessions that are trying to unravel the mysteries of social media as a service delivery tool.  This topic may not have been at the top of your list when you walked in the door but it is by the end of the first day.

Make connections, contacts, and collect cards.  For a conference with over 800 attendees you should be collecting 15 to 20 business cards from other attendees and speakers.  Hang on to these cards because the entire industry is based on relationships.  Believe me, my Rolodex is massive and I worked hard to develop it.  Conferences are the perfect place to source out specific contacts from key companies you work with or would like to work for in the future.  It always floors me when I see 5 people from the same company standing together at one of the receptions.  Divide and conquer.  Mix and mingle and make contacts that you didn’t know before.

If you are a service exec who sends a team of people to industry conferences here are a few things that you can do to make this expense more beneficial to your team.  First, pick people that are really interested in attending.  Also, ask each individual to complete a trip report that summarizes the sessions that they attended and their overall feelings about the event.  These reports should be used as training tools for your management team that didn’t get a chance to attend.  During “brown bag” lunch sessions the trip reports can be presented and everyone gets a little bit of knowledge that might be helpful in the future.  If there is one topic where you need more information, get the speaker on the phone for a clarifying conference call.  Most speakers are more than happy to dig deeper into a topic they presented.  Finally, get someone from your organization on the agenda and share your experiences.  Speaking at industry conferences shows that you have a message to deliver that your peers have a strong interest in.  Speaking is great PR for you as a service exec and for your company as a service leader.

Tell me what you think about attending industry conferences.  Just email me at BillRose@BillRoseINC.com

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