#030: Jenn Lee on How to Get a 10X Return on Your Next Conference

Summary: In this interview, my good friend Coach Jenn Lee shares some super-practical tips and ideas we can all use to get a 10X (or better!) return on the conferences and events we attend.

I've always been a big proponent of investing in targeted conferences and events.

It's not just about what you learn, it's about the people you meet, the conversations you have and the insights you gain.

In other words, the intangible things no one can really put a price on.

However, I'm the first to admit that I don't always get the most value from the conferences I attend.

Why? Mainly because of poor planning on my part. And many times I just don't know what I'm supposed to do! (Sound familiar?)

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Tell us about yourself and the work you do

Jenn Lee speaks at tons of conferences every year. Over time, she’s compiled a list of dos and don’ts for both extroverted and introverted conference attendees.

How do you pick the right conference?

Start by understanding why you want to go to a conference. Do you want to network? Get out of the office? Meet new prospects? Get specialized training? Know your main objective and then choose a conference that will help you obtain it.

Make sure the conference “feels right.” Do you like their approach? How will they deliver information? Who will speak? Will your target audience be there?

What do you get the most of out a conference?

Pitch yourself as a panelist.

clicktotweetParticipating on a conference panel gives you great exposure and elevates your credibility.

It takes minimal preparation because you’re mostly speaking to your own experience.

You can also volunteer as an assistant or timekeeper for a breakout session. It’s an easy way to develop a relationship with the panelists and the moderator.

What are some dos and don’ts of pitching yourself for a panel?

Download Jenn’s cheat sheet of 10 dos and don’ts for pitching yourself as a panelist. (See link at the end of the show notes.)

Start by going to the conference website and following their application process. Keep your focus on what you can do for them and their audience. Talk about your experience. Let your personality come through.

Contrary to what you might think, conferences are always looking for people. You don’t have to be a guru or published author.

What should you do BEFORE a conference?

1. Reach to vendors. Reach to all the vendors on the conference schedule that interest you. These vendors could have products you’re interested in or be potential collaborators. Have a conversation with them BEFORE the conference. Then, during the conference, visit their booths. They’ll want to learn more about you.

2. Reach to speakers. Reach to all the speakers that interest you. Start a conversation via LinkedIn or Twitter. Then, when you’re at the conference, continue the conversation in person. You want to know about them, and they’ll want to know about you.

It’s usually easier to get time with someone at a conference than during a regular workday. Speakers often have time to kill because they don’t plan to attend all sessions. They’re there to connect with new people.

3. Reach to attendees. Follow the conference’s hashtag. Retweet and contribute to some of the conversations. These people could be potential collaborators or clients. It’s much easier to connect with them at the conference because you already have a relationship via social media.

What should you do DURING a conference?

1. Get to there early. You never know whom you’ll meet. It’s also a conversation starter.

2. Sit in the front row during breakout sessions. Be prepared to ask a question. Asking a question gets the attention of the speaker and makes it easier for others to approach you afterwards.

3. Look for other opportunities to start conversations. Often, you’ll have to line up to talk to a speaker after a session. While you’re waiting, talk to the person next to you.

4. You aren’t there to sell yourself so take the pressure off. You’re not there to land a new gig on the spot. You’re there to have conversations and make new connections.

What should you do AFTER a conference?

Follow through on all the groundwork you laid before and during the conference. Maintain the connections you made. Implement any plans you made to reach your objectives.

There’s no perfect formula for keeping in touch with people. Share information that might interest them. Take an interest in what they’re doing. But be genuine in your interactions and don’t overthink it.

When you really make the most of a conference, you don’t have to attend dozens of them every year.

clicktotweetYou only need to attend 1 or 2 conferences per year to make good connections.

Tell us what you're up to these days

Companies spend tons of money on conferences. They need help maximizing their investment before, during and after. Jenn Lee has created a new division in her company to offer this kind of service.

Jenn’s website: The Work Creative and Coach Jenn Lee.

Jenn’s blog post on how to pitch yourself to conference organizers.

Special Discount on the 2015 HOW Live Conference

The 2015 HOW Live Conference + Creative Business Conference is happening on May 4th through the 8th in Chicago.

I'm going to be there, and I'll be speaking on warm email prospecting strategies. (So I'd love to meet you there if you go!)

This is the premier freelancer and creative business events of the year. You'll get tactical information you can immediately put to use. Plus inspiration from the brightest minds and biggest brands, timely explorations of trends and technology, and a healthy dose of camaraderie and connection with your fellow creatives.

As a listener of Smarter Freelancing you can enjoy 10% off your registration when you enter discount code FREEACADEMY15 upon checkout. (There are multiple registration options to choose from.)

To learn more or to register, visit www.HowDesignLive.com.


  • Lori Widmer

    Great podcast, Ed and Jenn! And I agree with every point.

    I attend one trade show every year (coming up next week, in fact), and each point is spot on. You can't go there thinking you MUST make a sale. It's about building those relationships and starting those conversations. I do schedule meetings at the show for those who are interested, but the majority of my time is getting to know new people.

    Because I write in an industry that needs specialized writing, it's never a wasted trip!

    • edgandia

      That's precisely the mindset you need to get real value from these investments. Way to go, Lori! Thanks for checking out the show. Good luck at the event next week!