Conference season is upon us–does it ever really end?–and there’s a good chance that you plan to either attend, or speak at, at least one conference in 2013. I’ve lost track of how many conferences I’ve been to in my career, but there are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way and there have been plenty of observations to share–all designed to help you make it through any conference with your reputation unscathed.
1. Bring extra batteries for your latops or tablets. Likely there won’t be enough outlets and you might kill someone if they have trip over your legs and cables as you sit along the wall–that is supposed to be used as an aisle–because you’ve set up shop next to an outlet. Tip: Pick up a battery pack from someone like Zagg.com. Bonus tip: Bring extra charging cables. Just in case you lose one, or decide to be a hero and lend your spare one to someone that forgot theirs.
2. Don’t upload/download video on the conference network. Seriously, conference Wi-Fi is known for its suckitude. Please don’t add to our woes by being the person that uses it to upload video or download the latest episode of The Walking Dead for the flight home. Tip: If your device is 4G/LTE enabled, use it. You, and everyone using the conference network, will be happier.
3. You will be judged by your appearance. This applies equally to both sexes. I’m not going to tell you not to wear your skirt above your knees or your pants below your boxer shorts, but know this: what you wear will go a long way to how your reputation will be perceived. Embrace it, or go with business casual and not worry about it. Tip: If you are going to wear a comical t-shirt, why not make one to promote your business? Zazzle or Cafepress offer reasonable rates on single shirts.
4. Silence cell phones. The moment you enter the conference building, turn your ringer off. People have paid good money to hear the speaker, not your cute ring tone. Tip: If you do have to take a call, leave the room. No matter how quiet you think you are talking, you are still causing a distraction.
5. Respect a speaker’s time. Know this about a conference speaker: at the end of the session they may a) be scheduled to speak at the very next session, b) may desperately need to use the restroom, c) may not be able to solve your problems in 2 mins. Tip: Certainly ask a question, but if you break out the laptop and ask for a consultation, you are being rude. These guys get paid for their expertise–don’t freeload.
6. Don’t build a kingdom of chairs. That empty seat next to you is not reserved for your backpack or handbag. Be considerate about taking up more than one chair, especially if the room is crowded. Tip: If you see someone looking for a chair, and there is one empty next to you, raise your hand and let them know–you just made a new friend!
7. Don’t present with a hangover. I understand that the lure of an open bar can be very tempting, but if you’re hungover the next day your presentation will suffer. No one wants to see a disheveled speaker that sounds like he just got out of bed. Tip: If you must drink the night before your presentation, drink plenty of water and get up at least 4 hours before you are due to speak–so you have time to eat and clean up.
8. Add your Twitter username to each slide. You may share the best information of the conference, but it’s wasted if the audience doesn’t know your Twitter handle. Don’t assume they will either know it or remember it. Place your @username in the footer of at least every other slide. Tip: Don’t get cute and create your own hashtag for your presentation. Attendees have enough to remember as it is and you may annoy the conference hosts, if they have their own hashtag.
9. DO.NOT.READ.EACH.BULLET.POINT. Nothing will ruin your reputation as a speaker faster than lengthy bullet points that you then proceed to read to your audience. Your bullet points should be conversation starters, not your entire thoughts on a topic. Tip: Speaking is 50% education, 50% entertainment. You will be fondly remembered–and score higher on evaluations–if you provide valuable info in a memorable way.
10. Don’t make a sales pitch. Yes, you can talk about your company, but do so in a single slide, preferably at the outset of your presentation. No one paid money to hear you sell your service or product. Tip: Don’t hold back on your expertise hoping to get hired. You are more likely to get hired if someone thinks to themselves: “Wow, this speaker gave a lot of great info, she must know what she’s doing!”
11. Don’t abuse your allotted time. If you’ve been allotted 10 minutes to speak, don’t take 20. Seriously, you’re just going to bore the audience and annoy your fellow speakers. Tip: If you’re not the rehearsing type, then assume at least 1 minute of speaking time for each slide in your deck.
12. Get off the stage when your session is over. When your session has reached its end time, please take it “off stage.” Don’t continue to sit there and consult with those audience members that have come forward. Likely the next guys are eager to get set up for their session. Tip: You don’t have to end the discussions, but suggest taking them to the hallways.
13. Remember your elevator pitch. In 30 seconds–or 140 characters if you like–practice describing who you are and what it is your company does. That may be all the time you get to introduce yourself. Tip: Explain your company in terms of benefits, not features. Bonus points, if you can relate your business to something personal to the person with whom you are chatting.
14. Don’t go cheap on your business cards. While business cards are no longer as important as they used to be, they’re still a great way to make a connection. Just like your appearance, you will be judged by your business card. Unless you seriously have no budget or time, avoid printing them at home or using Vistaprint. Tip: Get your business cards from Moo.com for something unique and interesting.
15. Know your business card etiquette. In Japan, it is custom to read both sides of the business card before stuffing it into your pocket. Whenever I am handed a business card, I take the time to read what’s on it and show respect. It helps me to remember the person’s name and I may find something on the card to talk about (“Oh, you’re from San Diego? I love the zoo there, have you been?”) Tip: It is better to be asked for your business card than to force it on someone.
16. Don’t make a sales pitch to everyone you meet. Seriously, networking is not the time for selling. You are there to make connections, let the business side of things happen naturally. Tip: Talk more about the other person, than yourself. You will be remembered more fondly.
17. Hands on your glass. The only time your hand should be touching another person is to shake their hand. Unless you are already friends with someone, do not hug, do not touch their leg, do not rub their back. This goes for both genders. You’ll either send the wrong message or become the subject of a blog post.
18. Follow up. If you say you’ll send someone an email or follow up, do so. Don’t miss that opportunity to reconnect and perhaps do some business. Ideally, you should follow up with someone within a week of returning home–so the connection doesn’t go cold. Tip: Do not add someone’s contact info to your email mailing list unless they specifically asked.
OK, what have I missed. There has got to be other tips that you feel are worth sharing. What else would you suggest to someone looking to work a conference like a rock star?