8 Tips To Keep Your Next Conference From Being a Total Waste of Money

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At FiComm, we attend conferences with a certain passion that can only be explained by our fangirl/fanboy like view of the independent wealth management community. We love the energy, the people, the networking, the content, and the access that we get at the conferences we choose to attend every year. But we often hear from fellow industry vendors a different tune. Generally speaking, hard working sales teams show up at conferences tired from all the travel, completely disenchanted, and wondering why they bothered to show up in the first place. They ask us questions like, “Why do we keep wasting our money, year after year, expecting different results but getting the same-old same old?” One answer to this question, as the Millennials say, is FOMO: Fear of Missing Out. We worry what might happen if we don’t show up this one time. People will talk! Or what’s worse, they won’t talk. They’ll forget about us. And so, once again, hope triumphs over experience, and back to the conference they go, setting out the collateral, putting on lanyards, and smiling.

There is a better way. Here are some ideas to make your next event pay off:

1. Curate your conference list. You do not have to attend every conference. Trust me, your FOMO will fade. Focus only on conferences that are the right fit for your company, and direct your attention at getting more out of less.

2. Get a good head start. You can make conferences worthwhile—but you have to start early. Otherwise, you’ll be lost in the crowd. For example, Schwab IMPACT has a huge floor swarming with two or three hundred vendors. If you show up with no advance preparation, you won’t be able to generate any meaningful activity. You need to start planning three to six months in advance.

3. Tailor your plan to the event. Begin your planning process by creating a brief that defines your audience, venue, theme, format, topic, and so on. Use that information to shape your strategy. For instance, if your audience is IMPACT attendees, you don’t need to broadcast your message to the whole world. You can use almost any commercially available database—Discovery Data, Meridian-IQ, etc.—to select only advisors who custody with Schwab.

4. Get working on the marketing and creative side to generate buzz. The information in your brief can guide you in creating content that actually adds value for your audience: quick how-to guides, infographics, animations, video. Remember to tie it all into the conference name, and use the conference hashtag: open rates are higher for conference-related communications. Send out your content on a consistent basis to whet people’s appetites—then, if you can, follow it up with something unexpected.

5. Raise your profile at the event. If you have the opportunity to secure a speaking slot, nab it. On the other hand, if it’s pure pay-to-play, you might want to steer clear. Attendees tend to tune out.

6. Forget the swag. People tend to forget the junk behind or give it to their kids. However, you can achieve success with giveaways that are directly relevant to your offering—like a tech provider giving away a two-year free license or two free staff seats. Those perks are far more meaningful than a cell phone charger with a logo on it.

7. Reach the gatekeepers. Try targeting office managers and others who may not be the final decision makers in the firm, but still exert strong influence. They’ll be flattered by the attention, and could become your champion on the inside.

8. Follow up. Keep all the contacts you collect at the event separate from your other leads so you can target your messages. Create a contact strategy to maintain momentum. Ask people what they thought was the most buzzworthy happening at the event—or the biggest dud. Refer to it in your communications as a way to remind people that you were there, too.

I can’t promise you’ll look forward to your next event. But if you try some of these tips, you may feel a little bit better when you look back on it.