Over the past few years in my role as digital marketing evangelist for a customer experience management company, I have had the opportunity to attend dozens of marketing and technology conferences each year.

I attended most of those conferences as a speaker and made it a point to try and learn something new each time I walked into a conference hall. That said, as Scott Brinker says when speaking about his experience at the MarTech conferences, it’s “…always a whirlwind of insights and ideas. It usually takes me a couple of weeks after the event to synthesize what my key takeaways were from the event.”

Scott’s right-on. While I’ve had the best intentions, the volume of people, content and insights have been overwhelming. Unfortunately, in some cases, I came away with less than spectacular returns. It’s not that the topics or presenters weren’t excellent; they were. I asked friends and colleagues about their conference-going experiences over the years, and many of them encountered the same less-than-stellar outcomes. 

Based on lessons learned from those conversations and my own experiences, here’s my advice to help you get the most value from any marketing conference.

Prepare – First, you’ve got to do your homework. I’m not talking about preparation like when you head to the in-laws for the holidays. On the conference website, you’ll find some helpful links. This is where your value planning begins. Since I’m attending the MarTech Conference East soon, let’s use that site as an example. The links you’ll find there are similar to other conference sites.

Agenda – Before you plunk down your hard-earned cash, consult the agenda. Most conferences offer several “tracks” loaded with topical sessions. With each session designed to ladder up to the main track topic, you can select the sessions (and speakers) that meet your learning, career, networking or other desired outcomes you have for the conference.

Grab your favorite beverage, a note pad (for old school note-takers like me) then get comfortable and dig-in. Start with a solid list of challenges you need help with and add to the list topics about which you’d like to learn more. Find the sessions that are most relevant and note them. The agenda is usually broken down by day, so plan each day separately and make sure there’s no overlap of topics in your schedule. Ideally, one day’s content should build on the next.

If you’re struggling to find sessions that meet your needs, it’s probably not the right conference for you. Finish your drink and head over to your favorite search engine, because there are likely plenty of other events for you to consider. One theme that comes up repeatedly in conversations was registering for a conference before consulting the agenda. Don’t do that.

People – Once you’ve decided to register, the first place to start is with your network. If you’re a LinkedIn member, you can reach out to your first-level contacts via the mass message feature. 

The details regarding how to accomplish mass messaging are available via LinkedIn help or a simple search engine query so I won’t get into the details here (except for one crucial detail, below). Suffice it to say, using this approach to let your connections know you’ll be attending a particular event, and asking if they’ll be attending as well, is a great way to get the networking ball rolling.

I know I said I’d leave it to you to get the details of LinkedIn mass messaging on your own, but I’d be negligent if I didn’t tell you that it’s an absolute must when mass messaging to be sure you uncheck the box that reads, “Allow recipients to see each other’s names and email addresses.” Deselecting this box ensures that your message is blind copied to your LinkedIn connections. The default is for this box to be selected, so make sure you uncheck it.

The next step is reviewing the speaker list to see if there’s anyone you’d like to connect with at the conference. On the MarTech Conference website, there are dozens of speakers listed with a short bio and a link to their Twitter and LinkedIn profiles. I love meeting new people, and some of the most refreshing people I’ve met have been those who’ve engaged me at a conference where I was speaking.

Keep in mind, conference speakers can be busy. They’re prepping for their session and often have meetings and duties to tend to, especially if their company is a sponsor. Make sure you’ve done your homework. Research the speakers you’d like to meet and craft a short note about a topic you’d like to discuss. Sending the note as an InMail on LinkedIn is perfect.

Exhibitors – Regardless of the conference you attend, you’ll likely have the opportunity to explore an exhibitor area. Exhibitors have also paid a fee to attend, and their goal is to attract your attention. They often do this by offering up the coolest schwag you absolutely must have, but will inexplicably leave behind in your hotel room or throw away upon returning home. 

As a geek and a marketer, I enjoy the opportunity to meet face-to-face with product and service vendors whenever I can. I believe every marketer should be doing a demo with one new martech vendor each week. It’s a great way to feed your brain about new marketing technologies and stay current. In the case of the Martech Conference that has over 100 marketing technology solutions planned, there are more martech vendors for me to meet with than there are hours in a day, so planning is critical at events as well.

Review the exhibitor list and choose no more than six exhibitors whose products or services you would like to know better. Then, add those exhibitors to your schedule and make sure you meet them when the exhibitor area opens. Once you’ve checked the six primary exhibitors off your list, wander the exhibition area to see if any other offerings that didn’t make your list look interesting.

There you have it – my best advice for getting the most value from any marketing conference, based on lessons learned from colleagues, friends and my own experiences.

If you’re heading to the Martech Conference in Boston next week, I’d love to meet you. Connect with me on Linkedin or use the MarTech Conference app from Third Door Media, Inc. in the Apple App Store or on Google Play.

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About The Author

GeekHive, a New York-based marketing technology consultancy helping clients maximize their investments in martech. He’s also a digital marketing adjunct at New York University’s School of Professional Studies for 20 years, and the founder of How Digital Marketing Works.