Seattle Community

Betsy Talbot
Writer, traveler, bon vivant
Seattle, Washington
Greatly helpful
out of 10
22 votes

Making the Most of Your Conference

A conference or convention can be a great way to grow your business and enhance your network, but it takes some preparation.  Make the most of this concentrated education and networking by making plans before you pack your bags.

Written Jul 01, 2008, read 2172 times since then.


If you have a business, then you likely have the opportunity to attend at least one trade or membership convention every year. They can be great opportunities to expand your business, make valuable partnerships, and get feedback on your business plans from experienced leaders. They can also be exhausting wastes of time and money.

Fortunately, it is up to you to decide which one it will be.

First, make sure the conference is right for you.

  • What do you expect to get out of the conference? Is that outcome worth your time and expense?

  • Will the attendees be good resources/customers for you?

  • Can you contribute in a meaningful way?

If the conference is right for you, then start planning. Many people spend more time considering what to put in their luggage than what to do for their business. Don't make that mistake!

  • Study the agenda and make plans to meet influential attendees/speakers. If you have a proposal for a book, article, or idea, carry it with you. You may not have the chance to present it (and shouldn't push it off on someone unsolicited), but if the opportunity arises, be prepared to give it away immediately when asked. If you have to go back to your room or email it later the magic of timing may be lost.

  • Let your existing contacts know what you are doing. Set up an out of office email message that lets your customers know when you will be checking email/voicemail each day along with an exciting message about where you will be and why.

  • Do you have enough business cards?

    • Do your cards have your picture on them? If you attend a show with over 500 people, chances are you will be easily forgotten without one (make sure it is a recent one that actually looks like you, not a 10-year-old glamour shot)

    • Can you write on the back of your card? If you get glossy cards, make sure the back is matte so you can write something to jog the memory of the person you are talking to. Do the same on the back of their cards when you get them to help you follow up later.

    • If you are attending a very large show and expect to give out at least a box of cards, consider printing a special set just for the conference with pertinent information ("see me at booth 123" or "mention the conference special to get 15% off at my website")

    • My friend Zita Gustin recommends using Ziplock bags for every day of a conference to sort your cards (and even further sort them if you like by "potential customer" and "potential referral partner"). When you get that many cards, it is hard to keep them organized, and you will not remember if you don't have a system.
  • Make a plan for followup before you leave.

    • If you write cards, bring enough with you along with stamps. Mail them from the hotel so your contacts will have their cards when they get home.

    • Avoid writer's cramp and save time by using an online card system like Send Out Cards. I love the way I can customize cards, use my own handwriting, and insert a digital business card on the inside cover. And I never have to worry about buying stamps because Send Out Cards prints and mails them for me. Spend 20 minutes every night on this in your hotel room and you won't have a mountain of cards at the end of the week wondering who all of these people are and why you want to know them.

    • Bob Burg of Endless Referrals advocates using a "referral card" - an 8-1/2 by 3-1/2 inch card with your picture and relevant info - to send as your first contact with a new person. He then continues to follow up with Send out Cards. I just had these printed and will be using them for the first time at the eWomen Network Conference in Dallas this month and will let you know how this works. Here is a copy of the card I'm using.

    • Will you have a booth? Offer a giveaway in exchange for signing up for your subscription list. Make it easy by allowing them to drop in a business card instead of filling out a form. Then scan the business cards into your list when you get home with a tool like Neat Receipts.

    • Prepare a followup item such as a special newsletter, report, ebook, or pictures from the conference to send out to your new contacts afterward. Provide something of value along with a link to sign up for your subscription list. It goes without saying (though I am saying it) that you cannot add people to your email marketing list without their permission. Don't risk being labeled a spammer and lose your credibility by doing this. Always get permission.

If this sounds like a lot of trouble, you may not be in the right frame of mind to make the most of the convention. It does take time to prepare, but if you love what you do it is a great opportunity to grow your business and won't feel like work.

"Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success."

~ Henry Ford

Learn more about the author, Betsy Talbot.

Comment on this article

  • Loan Originator/CMPS 
Seattle, Washington 
Betsy Moore
    Posted by Betsy Moore, Seattle, Washington | Jul 03, 2008

    For anyone going to a conference, this is excellent information on how to be prepared and how to get the most out of one. And another great tip is if you are shy, have a game with yourself or with someone else on meeting 5 new people a day and finding out about their business and how you can help them.

  • Inspire Action 
Bellevue, Washington 
Debbie Whitlock
    Posted by Debbie Whitlock, Bellevue, Washington | Jul 03, 2008

    Great points Betsy - thanks for sharing the timely information. Imagine how many bizniks at Bizjam will be able to use this info as a road map for their experience.

  • GPS Facilitator for Business Owners 
Bellevue, Washington 
Zita Gustin
    Posted by Zita Gustin, Bellevue, Washington | Jul 03, 2008


    Fabulous pointers for making the most of a conference. Thank you so much for mentioning my idea of taking baggies with you to sort the business cards into at the end of the day. That little system has really helped me over the years to know how to schedule my follow up with people.

    I hope that everyone who is headed to Biznik's BizJam or any other conference this summer will take a moment to glean some jewels of wisdom from your article. When they do, they'll find their experience much enhanced!

    Great job Betsy!

  • Blogging Coach and Copywriter 
Seattle, Washington 
Judy Dunn
    Posted by Judy Dunn, Seattle, Washington | Jul 03, 2008

    Very useful pointers from a real pro! Thanks, Betsy.

  • Founder 
Indianapolis, Indiana 
Ron Sukenick
    Posted by Ron Sukenick, Indianapolis, Indiana | Jul 03, 2008

    Wow, great information from everyone.

    But allow me to add somethnig that's most important for all attedending. Be sure to go after the relationship. Not just the sale by using what I call the Small World Theory

    “It’s such a small world isn’t it?”

    How knowing what to do with your six degrees of separation can take your contacts into purposeful connection “It’s such a small world, isn’t it?” You’ve heard the phrase dozens of times. Perhaps you’ve even used it yourself after getting to know someone and being surprised to learn that you have mutual friends or are in some other way connected. But, have you ever really stopped to consider how understanding this “small world” can help us achieve business and professional goals? Social scientists have been trying to figure out these social networks since the late 1960’s. What they found was that most people in the world can be connected to one another by six degrees of separation. All of the people who we know – our work colleagues, old high school buddies, and social friends – make up our first degree of separation. In turn, all the people they know become the second degree of separation from us. And so on, until we reach six degrees and can connect with just about anyone on the planet. That’s good in theory. But how do we put the theory into practice and make these “small world” moments translate into real social capital? How can these relationships that I’ve established get me in the door of my target customers? In short, you must be proactive if you are to truly maximize the power in the connection and to get the most from the interaction. Here's one simple approach: Step 1: Stay in the moment. Always be present when you’re meeting people and pay attention to what might be going on in their world. Step 2: Always mention the names of people, places, events and occurrences. This will give the other person the opportunity to respond with the possibility a small world connection. Step 3: Ask connecting questions like: • “Do you know Susie Jones over at XYZ company • “You seam to be in a great mood – Do you mind if I ask why? • "Have you ever been to the island of Kauai?" When you ask the questions, you’ll be surprised how quickly you can make the connection. Of course this approach is only as good your ability to “take the moment and dance with it.” Now, here’s a true story that should clearly illustrate the Small World Theory: I was attending the Home and Patio show one year at the Indiana Fairgrounds when I noticed a young lady sitting at a table and signing autographs. The signs around the table identified her as Bryn Chapman, the current Ms. Indiana. As you’d suspect, she was smiling, meeting people, and sharing her passion for a worthy cause. I stopped, said hello, and after 4 minutes (of which I spoke for one minute and listened to her for the other three minutes), I ended our nice visit by saying, “Bryn, It was pleasure meeting you. Thanks for your time. Great cause. And good luck in all that you do.” Now, move ahead six weeks. I was facilitating training for a private company. The participants’ instructions were “tell us who you are, what you do, and the thing that you’re most proud of.” As were going around the room, one gentleman stood up and said “My name is Dan Chapman. I’m the marketing director for U-Build it Corporation. And, I’m most proud of my little girl who is currently Ms. Indiana.” Now think about it. At that very moment, I had two options. One was to thank Dan and then go onto to the next person for their introduction. But as you would imagine, though, that’s not what I did. In the spirit of taking the moment and dancing with it, I steered our conversation as follows: • “Dan, I think I met your Daughter!” Of course, this now gets his attention (which is the first step in the connection process). • He then looks to me for further explanation and I continue: • “Dan, I was at the fairgrounds the other day and met a young lady that said she was the current Ms Indiana. She’s a music major at Indiana University, came in 10th in the Ms. America contest, and was signing autographs for many young aspiring Ms. Indiana’s at the Fair. And, her name was Bryn Chapman. My gosh. I did meet your daughter.” • He then says, “It’s such a small world, isn’t it?” • I respond, “Actually, it’s not,” (this now gets his attention a second time) “unless you and I know what to do with the information. And, the fact is Dan that we do.” Unfortunately, many people who have a prime opportunity to take advantage of this “small world” phenomenon, just don’t know what to do with the knowledge. But, by taking simple steps to seize the moment and to recall previous information at the point of interaction, we can create the connection that helps to make our encounters more memorable. Making the most from your interactions comes down to having a strategy in place. So, the next time someone says “It’s such a small world, isn’t it?” you’ll know that how to capitalize on that connectivity to grow your community of business allies. It’s not a small world. It’s what you do to connect the dots that makes it seem that way. After all, the power really is in the connection.

  • Consulting/Coaching 
Seattle, Washington 
Sylvia Taylor
    Posted by Sylvia Taylor, Seattle, Washington | Jul 03, 2008

    Really great practical advice Betsy! Thanks for all the tips and some great strategies. Especially for the folks (like me) who are sometimes a little too 'go with the flow'.

    One other thing I would add is that you have to start with the right intention. Ron has the right idea - the conference should be about connection. When you go to a conference (even a sales conference!) and you only go with the intention of getting your biz card/sales info/product into the hands of as many people as possible you really create a disconnect. People know that selling tone in someones voice and they may take your card, but the chances are high that it goes right to the circular file, especially if you never intended to find out about their business. I know we've all run into 'those' people and I can say, with some certainty, I'm not alone in losing interest and making a mental note that I really just felt used. That's where used car salesmen got the bad rap.

    If you start with the intention to connect with, and I mean listen to, get to know the business of and needs of other business people, you'll more likely come away with more energy for you and your business. 6 degrees of separation really does work, and you never know who can connect you to your next client, business resource or friend. In the end, wouldn't it be better to have that connection be one of genuine interest than a handful of business cards from people you don't really remember and who probably don't remember you?

    Start the conference prepared both practically and with the intention to connect to others by finding out about their business and what they need and you might be surprised at the abundance that comes your way.


  • GPS Facilitator for Business Owners 
Bellevue, Washington 
Zita Gustin
    Posted by Zita Gustin, Bellevue, Washington | Jul 03, 2008

    BRAVO, Sylvia!!

    I could not have said this better myself. Go in looking for how you can help other people NOT how they can help you. The action of connection comes first and somewhere, further down the road, comes the space and time for transaction.

  • Intentional Interior Design: feng shui meets green design 
Seattle, Washington 
Piper Lauri Salogga
    Posted by Piper Lauri Salogga, Seattle, Washington | Jul 03, 2008

    Thanks Betsy for the inspiration for so many of us. I really appreciated the photo idea on the cards and follow-up notes, as well as Zita's baggy idea. Personal and good professional connection is made eye to eye, being yourself with each other. The photo can really help re-ignite the energy of the original contact, and the reason for staying in touch. I'm going to put it to use.


    Natural Balance Home & Office/ interiors for joyful conscious living

  • Communication Design 
Portland, Oregon 
John Vertrees
    Posted by John Vertrees, Portland, Oregon | Jul 03, 2008

    Thank you Betsy Talbot! Conferences and Tradeshows are a great way to connect person to person.

  • Postural Therapy & Movement Rehabilitation 
Seattle, Washington 
Sukie Baxter
    Posted by Sukie Baxter, Seattle, Washington | Jul 03, 2008


    Thank you for the article. One note, the link to the card you are using took me to an error page; however, that's the first time I've visited your new website. Bravo! I love the pictures and layout.

  • GPS Facilitator for Business Owners 
Bellevue, Washington 
Zita Gustin
    Posted by Zita Gustin, Bellevue, Washington | Jul 03, 2008


    Here's a link to the card that I use which is similar to the one that Betsy uses. We both learned about this tool from Bob Burg the author of Endless Referrals.

    You can copy and paste that into your browser and it will take you to the sample. It is basically a card that will fit into an #10 envelope so that you can write a follow up message to someone and it has all of your contact info on it including your photo ... to make it easier for people to remember who you are.

    I'll see you in Dallas next week!

  • Event Planning & Design 
Kent, Washington 
Janis Flagg
    Posted by Janis Flagg, Kent, Washington | Jul 03, 2008

    I really like your article. Good things for people planning events to remember to give as reminders or to help implement before an event to make a show successful.

    Isn't Biznik great!!

  • Qigong/Meditation Teacher  
Bainbridge Island, Washington 
CarolAnn Barrows
    Posted by CarolAnn Barrows, Bainbridge Island, Washington | Jul 03, 2008

    Hi Betsy,

    I am so glad that I took the time to read (and digest) your very valuable article. I followed all of the links and learned so much! I am now feel ready and empowered to make, and more importantly maintain new business friendships.

    Thank you so much for writing this article and sharing these wonderful resources and tools.



  • Writer, traveler, bon vivant 
Seattle, Washington 
Betsy Talbot
    Posted by Betsy Talbot, Seattle, Washington | Jul 03, 2008

    Thanks for stopping by, everyone. The systems outlined above are just bigger versions of my everyday networking. I'm not a business card collector or spreader, and at a regular networking event I focus on connecting with just a handful of people.

    In a larger setting like a multi-day conference, however, you can easily find a spark with lots of people, and because it is a yearly thing as opposed to weekly or monthly, you want to give them the opportunity to meet lots of other people they may not have access to during the rest of the year. So I do expect to give out quite a few more cards than normal and collect more as well. But my approach is still the same - it's all about the relationship and the followup when I get home.

    You guys have some great tips, and with all the input this will be a valuable resource for anyone who isn't sure how to prepare for a conference. Thank you for contributing your opinions and experience.

    PS - Zita, I'm going to change the article to showcase your referral card template - thanks for sharing!

  • GPS Facilitator for Business Owners 
Bellevue, Washington 
Zita Gustin
    Posted by Zita Gustin, Bellevue, Washington | Jul 03, 2008

    Betsy! Good job of clarifying the difference between regular networking and conference (once a year) networking. Thanks for showcasing my follow up card. You are so nice to do that!

    And, I'll see you in Dallas next week.

  • Founder 
Indianapolis, Indiana 
Ron Sukenick
    Posted by Ron Sukenick, Indianapolis, Indiana | Jul 03, 2008

    Staying in this groove of connection, I'd like to further the thought process by discussing the idea of interaction. And building relationships.

    What's real, is that Increased Interaction Brings Increased Cooperation

    How true it is when it comes to building solid relationships with others. Take a moment and think about rolling a pair of dice. If we asked you to roll one of the dice it would be called a die.

    As you know, most die are numbered from 1 to 6 right? OK, now here’s the question.

    If you roll the die 20 times in a row, and the die lands on the number 3, what are the odds that the next time you roll the die it will land on the number 3? Now don’t rush into it. Think for a moment.

    Now most people that I mention this to say one of two things:

    • The odds are not very likely


    • The odds are very likely

    The reality is that in both cases the odds are the same. They are one in six.

    With that said, what’s most interesting about this formula, is the magic number of 6.

    Now, let us contrast rolling dice to increasing interaction. Increasing interaction brings increased cooperation with others.

    From my own observations, and from self research, my theory is that if you can interact with someone at least six times, then you’ll end up having a 50/50 chance of either building an incredible relationship or not having a relationship at all.

    While I’m open to having a relationship with others, it’s only through mutual consideration that a relationship is possible. If you consider that the interaction you had could lead into an incredible relationship with someone then it is so. It’s that simple.

    So what is it I’m saying you ask? I’m saying that if you are interested in pursuing a relationship with another, make the attempt to interact at least six times from the time you first meet them.

    By doing this, you’re in a position to continue to the lay the foundation toward building a wonderful relationship with another.

    When all is said and done, just being there is never enough. Follow-up, increased interaction, and a sincere approach to the relationship is a winning combination.

  • B2B Midmarket Sales Prospecting Expert 
Portsmouth, New Hampshire 
Lori Richardson
    Posted by Lori Richardson, Portsmouth, New Hampshire | Jul 03, 2008

    Great job, Betsy. A conference can be so overwhelming. Your ideas along with Zita's and Bob Burg's are great ones to help keep the sanity in remembering who is who.

    Personally I get more cards from others than I give out - specifically because I want to initiate follow up based on how I can serve them or ideas I might have based on what our conversation was like.

  • Italy expert 
Issaquah, Washington 
Paula Russell
    Posted by Paula Russell, Issaquah, Washington | Jul 03, 2008

    Thanks Betsy (and all) for the timely, wise, and practical article. I just wish the E-Women conference and the Biznik Jam didn't conflict.

    I'd like to add just a small thought: do allow yourself some down time at a conference. Too much constant contact can burn a person out fast. Take a short break in your room, or better yet, get outside and go for a walk.

    Leave a little time for fun, too.

  • Social Media Illuminated 
Los Angeles, California 
Laura Roeder
    Posted by Laura Roeder, Los Angeles, California | Jul 09, 2008

    I'm going to my first big networking conference tomorrow and this was extremely helpful, I will bring some plastic bags with me along with little sticky notes to write additional notes on cards (or on glossy cards).

    Another idea I thought of is to review my existing database before I leave to jog my memory on the connections I can make for people (oh yeah, I forgot that I DO know a landscaper!)