For startups, conferences and conventions can be crucial events. They provide small businesses opportunities to meet potential prospects and partners. Come prepared and it can make an enormous impact on future business. Come willy nilly and you might as well toss those hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars down the drain. Thankfully, it doesn’t take much to come prepared. You’ll need just a handful of essentials. And it all starts with a plan.
- An Agenda
Creating an agenda for a conference starts with the conference’s master schedule. You can typically find these on the website far in advance. Panels, sessions, and speeches are typically subject to change, but you can get a basic idea of how the proceedings will unfold. And with that information you can create your agenda.
While you’ll certainly want to attend a few sessions and keynotes, you can’t attend them all. Nor should you desire to. In fact, your best opportunities might come while everyone else is in a popular keynote or session. That gives you a chance to walk the exhibit floor and talk to people. Wait until the times between sessions, or skip an unpopular session, and you might find it a bit too crowded to have a meaningful discussion.
No matter the specifics, make sure you know what you’re going to do before you get there. You’ll have to adjust on the fly, since you never know what will catch your attention. But having a basic structure will help guide you, so you’re not making it up as you go.
- Business cards
One day this will come off the essentials list. We’ll be able to merely bump phones or take some other simple action. But for the present business cards are pretty essential. They remain the easiest way to exchange contact information with other conference participants. Sure, you might get lost in a sea of them, but it’s better than not being in that sea at all.
It’s also embarrassing to not have a business card. Trust me; at one industry conference I forgot mine, and each encounter made me want to go hide in the corner. I’d get handed a business card and have none to return. There were plenty of opportunities lost that week, I’m sure.
Bonus tip: Don’t drop your business card into any of those “enter to win” roulettes. The chances of winning are so low, and all you’ll get is a probably irrelevant email. Worst case, you get spammed. Who wants that?
- A brief pitch
This isn’t quite an elevator pitch, but it’s close. In a few ways it serves the same purpose: to clearly and concisely inform someone of what your business does. The obvious reason: people value their time. They don’t want you wasting it, so you’ll do best to cut out the unnecessary stuff and get to the entree. But a brief pitch serves another purpose when attending a conference.
Creating and memorizing a brief pitch gives you the advantage of repeatability. If you’re doing things right, you’ll talk to dozens and dozens of people during the conference. Imagine coming up with something new every time you talk to someone new. You might end up confusing yourself. Having a crafted and memorized summary of what your business does makes introductions easy. You shouldn’t — and really can’t — script an entire conversation. But being clear about what you do and how you do it will make that conversation flow much freer and easier. If you struggle with this kind of pitch, check out this resource for improving your presentations and public speaking.
- A way to sell
While most merchants will likely purchase booth space, many startups just don’t have that kind of capital. Instead they’ll send a representative or two, to make contacts and perhaps generate some leads. But if you come prepared, you might be able to generate some sales right at the conference. Of course, if you want to make any sales you’ll have to come prepared. And that means having some kind of payment system that makes life easy for prospects.
Sure, you could whip out your laptop and log them into a site, but that adds obstacles to the sale. What works best is an iPhone card reader, such as the GoPayment model. That way you can sign someone up and get a payment right on the spot with the least possible resistance. Remember, when you’re opening your laptop, logging onto the site, and clicking through to the sale, you’re giving the prospect time to rethink the decision. And then there’s the process of entering card information. They’re all opportunities for the prospect to say no thanks. Have an instant payment method on hand and you’ll fare much better.
- Breath mints
This might sound like a joke, or a light way to end the list. Trust me, it is not. It might not be quite as important as the other items on this list, but it’s still crucial for anyone attending a conference. Get caught without them and you can turn off someone without even trying. You might not even realize it at the time, making matters all the more embarrassing in hindsight.
Think about it. You’re in a relatively tight space for an entire day. You might have brushed your teeth in the morning (geeze, I hope you did), but you’ll probably get a coffee at some point. Maybe you’ll even eat breakfast at the conference. Then you’re walking around all day with plenty of people around, probably sweating a little. There’s lunch, too. There is little to no chance you escape all that without dragon breath. Pop a few breath mints, or chew some gum, to avoid offending your conversation partners. They’ll be quite thankful.