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So after the last couple conferences I have blogged a recap, highlighting tips shared with me, or ones I have learned though personal experience. Because a number of people have commented on these tips, I have decided to make a master list of what I have learned from my conference adventures.
First, let me say it was 2 years ago that I attended my first automotive conference with Digital Dealer 8. I was in Business Development at CarSoup.com, primarily working with Minnesota dealers, had about 250 Facebook friends and didn’t participate in any other social media networks. In the year since, I have attended half a dozen more conferences, have more than 3,600 Facebook friends and operate an entire social media syndication. I now blog, post, tweet, skype and consult regarding digital automotive technologies.
There’s a lot of power and value in conferences if you do them right. Depending on your conference strategy you can either grow your network and utilize your resources to create professional momentum…or you can return broke, tired and hung over. So pay attention to my list below, because it won’t steer you wrong.
My Master List for Success, Comfort and Survival…
Define your objectives. What are the goals of your trip? To learn new ideas, find specific solutions, get motivated, look at products, get demonstrations, earn business, meet new people, or do you just want to go to Vegas and have your company pay for it? If my boss is reading this, I want you to know that the last statement isn’t me at all. Vegas? Yuck.
Go in with a game plan. Write down what you want to accomplish and whom you want to meet. Circle the sessions you want to attend, and then leave yourself time to meet with new companies. Know what you are in the market for, whether it’s a new CRM, website, third party lead provider, SEM, phone system, live chat, etc. Stay focused on your goals because once you get into the conference its mayhem, a whole gang of ex-car sales people trying to get the attention of other car people. In other words, don’t chase digital shiny things.
Write things down. FACT: You WILL forget most of what you learned unless you take time during the conference to write down what you know was important and what you plan to put in place as soon as you get back home. Forget your pages full of notes and your pocket-full of business cards. Write a "To Do List" of goals and tasks, as bullet points are the way to go. If you are sending an employee, require them to give a presentation to the rest of the company on what they have learned.
Utilize your Social Media. For example, turn on Foursquare mobile pings. Foursquare is a mobile application that allows you to broadcast where you are to your network of friends on the same application. Facebook also has this feature, calling it “Places.” Pings are notifications, so in my home city I leave this feature off. I really don’t need to know my friends’ whereabouts on an hourly basis (hey, if I stop at KFC that’s my business). Locally I use it as a game or a way of finding coupons. At conferences, however, I use it like a fish-finder for my friends. I can see where everyone is clustering so I know where to go. Other suggestions are to post on Facebook, Linked In, Trip It and Twitter. Create a favorites thread using the events hash tag so you can stay current with attendees’ tweets.
Maximize your days AND nights. Attend as many workshops as possible, meet as many people as you can and preview as many technologies as possible. I try to attend several cocktail parties to increase networking. If you stay in the same place all night you limit the number of people you get to meet.
The booth babes are paid to flirt with you. I know it’s hard to stay focused when a pretty girl is waiving her technology at you, but don’t cave and whatever you do don’t take your pen out to sign anything. Shiny things, remember. Don’t be lured by them.
Leave your comfort zone. I can’t recommend networking highly enough. This is the perfect environment to grow from others’ experiences. Introduce yourself to new people.
NEVER drink and social media. Friends don't friends tweet while intoxicated. Definitely don't Foursquare from the bar at 2 am if your boss follows you on 4SQ or Twitter. Just to be safe, don’t post anything past 10 pm. Nothing good can come of it.
Do not skip dinner and instead go straight to drinking vodka from an ice bar. Even if they have root beer favored Absolut (I know, these tips seem a little specific, but they are designed to help).
Make good decisions. Everything ends up on Facebook so don’t get your picture taken or do anything that your boss, mom or spouse can’t witness. Some wives may not want a picture of you on Facebook in Vegas at 1 am with a girl named “April Rain”.(I know weird, right?) . This, of course, definitely is in conduction with the tip regarding cocktails and social media. If you are inclined to make generally goofy faces when you drink, then don't get your picture taken.
You are not a Rockstar. Something happens to people when they are in Vegas or other major cities. They get caught up in the whirlwind of limos, good food and parties. My first conference I thought I could party with the vendors all night and still keep my early morning meetings. Remember, these vendors do a lot of conferences. They are pros. There is NO WAY you can keep up. If you try, you will be in pain. Know your limits. On day one, I’m an uber energetic superstar… On day three, I look like I stared in Zombieland.
Be a considerate Facebooker. I always show people the picture I take so they have the first right of refusal. If they hate the picture, I delete it. I also don’t criticize or slam on social media. Digital karma operates faster than the speed of light!
Consider your sources: Be objective when listening to sessions. There is a lot of good content out there but there also are a lot of people who are motivated strictly to sell their own product. Research speakers before you attend. It can save a lot of time.
Stay hydrated. I’ve been a runner for years, but all this ‘on the go’ can be more tiring than a half marathon. Plus, all the happy hours will dehydrate you.
Eat healthy! It sounds easy right? I am the worst at this. I found myself surviving the weekend with “on the go” smoothies, granola bars and five hour energy drinks. There is a lot to do, so be sure you eat a hearty meal at least once a day.
Don’t wear high heels. This rule doesn’t pertain to the majority of automotive conference goers, but it’s still a great piece of advice (unless your only 5’”’, at which point you’re tempted to endure the pain to offset you vertical disadvantage). So, let’s de-gender this tip to say: “wear comfortable shoes”.
Meeting Management: Don’t make hard meetings. You’ll find yourself trying to fly from one end of the conference hall to the other (trust me, I learned this one the hard way). I have also found that if you are going to have meetings with ridiculously smart data analytics experts, do it on day one when you’re rested and far, far smarter.
Keep mints on you. When you are trying to network in a small area and you lean in close to hear someone, if you smell like yesterday’s cocktail hour and coffee you may not be conveying the long lasting impression you are hoping to achieve.
Maximize Your Workshops. In advance, look for to what appeal to your interests and schedule the times and locations in your Outlook/Google calendar.
Strategic Cocktailing: RSVP in advance. Look at all the party options. Here’s a clue, companies with big money have big parties. With that said, small intimate cocktail parties are great for networking and connecting on a more individual basis. I also participate in great communication networks. I create a group of well-informed conference elite that agree to share with you the hot spots in exchange for you doing the same.
Raiding the free booth prizes. Be sure to do this on day one. That way you’ll be sure to get all the cool phone holders, flashlights, fliers, and even teddy bears to bring home to the kiddos. If you wait till the last day, you’ll be leaving with gum and a foam stress ball.
Watch out for Family Vacation Syndrome. Trying to keep track of your group can drive you crazy. If you get sucked into other people’s agendas you’ll miss opportunities to do the things you wanted to do. If you are traveling with a group, meet for an early morning coffee/breakfast then divide and conquer. Regroup early afternoon and then split up before finally reconvening at the evening spot.
Power Management. Charge your phone at every opportunity. It is the worst to be disconnected in the evening just as you are trying to locate everyone. I always bring at least two back-up batteries.
The Naked Salesman: Actually, I am just worried I have lost you by now so I am making my titles more creative. This is all about dressing the part. I have a rule: Always dress for success. People will never fault you for looking too nice. But if you look like a slob it will impact peoples’ perception of how you do business. You never know who you will meet , so I believe it’s always better be safe than sorry. I know it’s inconvenient, but if it helps make you money then suck it up. To all the ladies, for evenings the black casual cocktail dress is priceless. I will inevitably spill something on myself at the beginning of the night and the dress helps to camouflage such mishaps. Plus, it’s both dinner and club appropriate. For men, nice jeans and clean trendy shirt work best. Once again, I remind you that you are not going to score with either the booth babe or the hot internet manager from Illinois. So lay off the heavy cologne.
Packing: Here’s my quick checklist of useful items you may forget about: puffy eye cream for the sleep deprived, a huge stack of business cards, Tylenol, Vitamins, note paper, pens, cash, breath mints and five hour energy shots.
Disclaimer: I am neither trained nor certified in automotive conferencing. Therefore, follow my tips at your own risk. In fact, I have no real credibility here (except a whole lot of experience), so I am not responsible for any negative consequence you receive as a result of taking my tips. I will, however, gladly accept credit for the good things that happen if you do.
Strategist, Digital Rain Management