Make the Most of Tech Conferences

Technology conferences are fun places to discover the hottest new gadget and convene with people who share your enthusiasm. But if you’re going to invest the time and money--more important, if your company is going to invest the time and money--you need to do more than have fun.

Whether you’re on your way to SXSW or Adobe Summit this month, or planning ahead for Cisco Live, Microsoft Ignite, or even next year’s E3, consider your ROI. Demonstrate the benefits for your company. Show that the trip will help you keep pace with the competition and increase your personal value as an employee.


Know What You’re Looking For

The Trade Show, the biggest exhibit at SXSW, features more than 250 exhibitors. You simply can’t visit them all. Review the exhibitor list with key decision-makers in your company. Review your current and future technology needs. Decide in advance which vendors or products hold the most promise. Then, divide and conquer. Among those team members attending the conference, decide who should check out what.

Moving beyond the exhibit floor, research who will be giving product demos or holding Q-and-A sessions during the conference. Work these into your schedule and prepare you questions ahead of time. That way, you make the most of every minute.

Of course, leave some flexibility to make discoveries. One of the exciting parts of conferences is happening upon amazing new tech that you didn’t expect.


Keep Good Records

Even if you pare your options down considerably, you may struggle to remember details once you return to work. Amid the sensory overload that these conferences provide, your circuits get a bit fried.

Take photos of products that pique your interest. Instead of weighing yourself down with brochures and other printed materials, take photos of those, too. Make notes in your phone or tablet, even about things that seem obvious. If you have a particularly meaningful interaction with a representative of the company, exchange information. Go ahead and make notes about them too, including physical descriptions and unrelated topics of conversation: (E.g., we’re both Ohio State grads!) These details will keep the who experience fresh.


Get on Exhibitors’ Follow-Up Lists

Naturally, you won’t have to do all the work of keeping in touch.When you find an exhibitor whose solution might meet your needs, make sure they scan your badge or otherwise capture your information. This will ensure your name gets into their lead management system and you stay up-to-date with product releases and other updates.

On the flip side, you might wish to avoid unwanted follow-up communication. Entering drawings or scanning your badge for a freebie will likewise put you on mailing lists. Keep this in mind if you want to stay selective about who you share your information with.


Network with Others

The beauty of a professional conference is that it gives you a chance to meet others facing the same challenges as you. Some conferences share lists of attendees and their companies in advance, so make this another element of your planning. Look for people in related but not directly competing companies.

When you meet people whose needs are similar to yours, ask them for tips. Find out what they’ve seen so far at the conference that they recommend, and share your findings, too.

Make use of social media, too. Follow official hashtags and see what vendors or products are getting the most buzz. This could lead to one-on-one conversation and fruitful future relationships.

Regardless of your approach to the next tech conference you attend, plan in advance to make the most of your limited time. Know what you are looking for, be it product information, education, networking, or a mixture of all three. Review the agenda so that you can get what you want out of the event, and then go for it. As with most things, it’s simply a matter of planning your work, then working your plan.