On The Front End: Planning Tips for TUFF Summit 2016

YIMAGE Planning for the Conference - Sherra Bell Imageour TUFF Summit 2016 organizers want you to make the most of your experience this year. As a result of that commitment, they have asked me to share my thoughts on event preparation to help you organize your efforts. My last post dealt with how you decide (or get permission) to attend a conference by setting your goals in advance. Once you’ve decided to attend based on what you hope to get out of attendance, it is time to identify the sessions that will provide the most value and the people you hope to meet so you are sure to extract the maximum value possible.

First Connections

Once committed, the next step is to devise your conference strategy. I previously suggested (in my first blog post) that you identify 3 or so speakers and topics that align best with your goal(s) for attending. This is a great direction to focus your first actions by thinking about how you can contribute to budding conversations. Starting an informed and respectful dialogue well in advance with the presenter(s) of topics that interest you establishes the relationship and, if done well, may also supply speakers with valuable customer discovery or insight. The conversations you have now will help questions asked during the session feel more integrated and relevant. Be inquisitive without arrogance so as to encourage rather than challenge. Strive to raise your profile without stealing anyone else’s spotlight.

Session Planning

Once you’ve done that, examine the remaining general sessions and breakouts, as well as breaks and networking events, to further prioritize them. If you are hoping to get noticed or establish credibility, thoroughly research speakers and topics in advance. Asking articulate and answerable questions during Q&A opportunities is a legitimate and respectable way to enhance your reputation in all sessions. So is commenting thoughtfully via the conference Twitter hashtag (#TUFFSummit2016).

For general sessions, consider their purpose and plan to attend any that make sense for you. Opening sessions orient attendees to a common perspective while other follow-up sessions exist to bring the entire body of attendees back together in community for topics that have a more general appeal. By contrast, breakouts and workshops serve to support the variety in audience interests and dividing them into relative niches.

This variety can be leveraged in different ways depending on your goals. If your primary goal is to learn and network with like-minded peers, then simply follow your interests and choose breakout topics based on their personal appeal. That could mean following a single track for all of the sessions or attend across tracks for more variety. However, if attending with a primary objective to sell yourself, a service or product, you’ll need to select sessions that are most likely to appeal to your prospects.

Breaks and Networking Events

As for breaks and networking events, overall objectives for attending the conference will drive how best to use the time dedicated for them. If you are attending just to learn, use these as brain-breaks or schedule check-in calls with home or work during those times. However, if you are looking for a new job or have something to sell, bring you’re A-game focus and schedule rendezvous with potential prospects in advance or just after sessions you expect them to attend.

For all networking, define your target prospects in advance (individually or by company) and give serendipity a little help by physically positioning yourself in close proximity whenever possible. Just don’t go overboard. There is a fine line between smart prospecting and creepy stalking. Do your research but don’t admit what you already know about them unless it is to mention someone you have positively in common who has said it is OK to namedrop.

Vendor Connections

If you are there to learn about the latest and greatest developments in the field, don’t forget to make plenty of time for the vendor fair which is also often tied to breaks and networking events. Check out the sponsor list in advance and do your homework. If one of the sponsors happens to be of particular interest, your conference sponsorship organizer would be more than happy to help you connect in advance to schedule your encounter in advance. Sponsorship money is a significant resource to conference organizers so connecting interested decision makers with participating vendors is a valuable exchange all around.

Conferences represent a significant investment of time and money. Most attendees trust serendipity to do all of the work for them. Unfortunately, that can also result in missed opportunities and diminished value. I hope one or more of these suggestions will help you get everything possible out of TUFF Summit 2016. Please make additional suggestions to fellow attendees in the comments below. This is another way to share your leadership in advance of the event!

Among many other things, Sherra M. Bell is the founder of Creative Know-Who, a sales and recruitment consultancy serving creative teams. She completed two years of architecture studies at Auburn where she finished instead with her BFA in Visual Communications. She is a native of Atlanta, past president of AIGA Atlanta and has spent the past 20 years attending more than an average amount of conferences, summits and seminars.


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