A News Non Profits — 30 June 2014

By Kate Carr

Everyone knows that industry conferences are valuable opportunities to strengthen professional relationships, develop new contacts and learn about innovations that can help your business.

Unfortunately, given the demands of our day-to-day work, it can be difficult to make the time necessary to get out of the office and take advantage of all the things these conferences have to offer. Therefore, it’s key that you get as much as you can out of them when you are able to set aside time to attend. Planning ahead can help you make your next conference as productive as possible.

As I prepare for my next conference, The 9th Annual Bridge to Integrated Marketing & Fundraising Conference, I have mapped out my approach to getting the most out of this exciting event. Here are the questions that I posed to myself, and answered, to ensure I have a plan when I hit the conference floor:

1.  Identify your goals. Are you spreading awareness about your cause or organization? Interested in getting face time with some specific individuals? Or as a fundraiser, are you looking for new ideas to recharge your online donor gift giving or cross-channel marketing campaign? Plan ahead and figure out what sessions and events are most relevant to you to help achieve these objectives.

At the Bridge conference, I’ve identified several sessions on social and multi channel marketing that will give me some new ideas to share with the office.  I have also blocked out some time for connecting with clients and growing my network.

networking opportunities2.  Take advantage of on-site networking opportunities. Besides stated networking receptions and lunches, any situation can be a chance to develop your professional network. Charging stations, refreshment breaks and registration sign in are great conversation starters. I have my elevator speech prepared and extra business cards so I can be ready to represent my organization and myself.

3.  ViVisit the exihibit hallsit the exhibit hall. Everyone loves the tchotchkes and free candy, but the industry partners manning their booths can also give you the scoop on what works and what doesn’t. Pose your challenges to them and let them come up with answers to help reduce your costs, or provide an innovative direct mail format or new fundraising idea.

I’ve prepared a list of questions and services that I need to research. It will save a lot of time being able to see several firms all at once, rather than trying to have each come to my office or send me emails.

4.  Gather content. You will be jotting down a lot of ideas, statistics, and inspirations to utilize later. At the end of each day, while gather content (2) (1)the ideas are fresh, choose three things that you learned and want to incorporate in the next year. Capture them on a separate piece of paper, a mobile to do list or even a napkin. Don’t wait until the end of the conference to organize your thoughts!

I’ve got my iPad at the ready! I will be taking notes to be sure I capture every nugget at the Bridge Conference and will be able to share with my entire team so we all have the chance to succeed.

5.  Utilize social networking tools. Many conferences now provide a free app for their conference attendees. This is gold.

The robust Bridge Conference app lists all of the attendees, has a messaging function, areas of interest tag, customizable agenda, social feed and real time updates. Bonus:  It is a great way to follow up with contacts before, during and after the event. I plan to put this to good use – it’s just expanded my network by over 1600 professionals!

When you make a financial investment and time commitment to attend a conference, like anything else in business, it’s good to have a plan on how you are going to maximize the benefits…and like the Bridge Conference theme, I’m ready for the Power to Succeed.

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KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAKate Carr is Executive Vice President at Silver Marketing, Inc., a full-service marketing agency with a reputation for providing strategic thinking, compelling creative and outstanding results.

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