Attending conferences can be expensive, with an overwhelming convergence of new information, connections and business tools. While scheduling effectively and paying close attention is key, it’s your preparation before you even attend that can make the real difference.
Because of the expense of traveling to the conference site, it is important to choose the show that makes the most sense to your business goals. Obviously, if you are home-based, conferences such as the Home-Based Travel Agent Forum would be geared toward specific relatable issues. There are also shows put on by Consortiums, such as Vacation.com and other industry associations.
Be prepared, and know the facts. Determine the total cost to attend – registration, hotel, airfare, ground transportation and meals. There are always time-sensitive cost savings when the show is initially announced. Securing the best deals early on, such as early-bird registration and discounted hotel rates, will avoid the surprising high costs later.
Stay at the conference hotel
If you want to maximize your chances to socialize, staying at the conference hotel can be a plus. You will also save time and taxi costs.
You will need that extra space in your luggage to bring all the brochures home. Option: With the extra baggage fees from the airlines, it may be less expensive to ship the material home from the hotel business center.
Have a plan
Take a look at the conference website, the different tracks and speakers, and then figure out how your time can be spent most effectively. Then schedule your time around sessions you don’t want to miss.
Before the conference begins, sit down with the printable version of the program that is made available from the show website. Go through the agenda with a highlighter, and mark anything that looks interesting.
Wear comfortable but professional business attire
These are “business conferences” and agents are requested to dress accordingly. Don’t forget good shoes! You will be walking a lot, especially at the trade show area.
Trade Show Floor
This is a great opportunity to meet a multitude of suppliers and high level executives. They will be eager for you to learn more about their products and how they may fit your clientele’s needs. Take time to introduce yourself to the staff manning the different booths. I’ve had some of my best business experiences from conversations that started this way.
Bring plenty of business cards
It is awkward when you reach into your wallet or purse to discover you are out. Cards may be required at supplier booths to get material and giveaways! Many shows can have up to 200 suppliers at a show.
Laptops or Smartphones
I have been at many conferences where most of the audience is looking down at their laptops or phones. Are they just taking notes? Or is everyone catching up on emails and texting? If so, you may be missing valuable information being presented. Be in the moment. We spend too much of our time staying distracted; turn off your cell phone, your Blackberry or iPhone, and your computer.
Laptops and texting can also sometimes be very distracting to the speaker and your seatmates. Try to keep typing to a minimum during sessions, or sit in an area off to the back or side of the room.
Check the program or with show management, as session content may be available online after the show.
Hallway conversations can be where the greatest value is shared during conferences. Try not to sit with the same people you came with. Later you’ll have time to go to dinner and reconnect. Arrive about five minutes early to the session, say “Hello” and introduce yourself to anyone sitting next to you. Instead of waiting for them to come to you, take the first step. Ask questions. “What have you learned at this conference that you think you will try when you get back?”
Before you leave the conference, sit down and write out a minimum of two things you plan to change when you get back to your business and why. If you have four customers to follow-up on who might not be raving fans of yours, write their names down and what you need to do.
Conferences are a great use of your time – especially if you leave with new ideas fostered by some great speaker on how to change and grow. For each session you attend, a good aim is to try to take away a minimum of three good points from each of the presentations. Your goal should be to increase your knowledge of what you don’t know!
Anita Pagliasso is the author of “How I Made A Small Fortune as a Home-Based Travel Agent” “From Home-Based to POWERHOUSE” and “Anita’s Toolbox for Home-Based Agents CD”(www.redticketproductions.com), President, Host Agency Ticket To Travel (www.travelagentathome.com), Travel Agent Forum Conference Director, and PATH President & Executive Board Member. Finally Anita is also a professional educator with The Travel Institute, www.thetravelinstitute.com.