How to Survive Your First Work Conference from a Former Newb [Tips for INBOUND 2017]
Prior to last year, I'd never been to INBOUND before.
I’d never been to a marketing conference before.
Hell, I’d never been to any conference ever.
My inexperience didn't mean I wasn't going to crush it, but it also didn't mean I didn't prepare my face off to make sure I did.
When I went, I knew what I’m going to get out of INBOUND, what I was going to bring back, and what was the most fun. Here's what I learned to help guide first-time attendees of INBOUND 2017.
Let's Get the Basics Squared Away:
INBOUND is the biggest marketing conference of the year and it’s an opportunity like no other in so many ways.
This is true for agencies, like IMPACT, and businesses looking to grow in the same way that we have. (Note: We're sponsoring again this year and we're giving away AWESOME free prizes at our booth. Learn more on how to get yours here.)
This is especially true for businesses in industries that haven’t embraced inbound marketing. This is where they can discover the bleeding edge of marketing, learn about the tools to make it happen, and gauge the lay of the land.
Last year, INBOUND had about 19,000 attendees. The year before that, about 14,000 and before that, around 10,000. That’s some serious growth.
And it’s in Boston.
I know Boston. I’ve been there, and I’m looking forward to going back. If you’ve got the time, check out the sights, but honestly, you probably won’t have the time. (There are a lot of Pokéstops there too).
And here’s what I’ve been told by compadres, attendees, and read online about surviving my first work conference:
1. Register for sessions as early as possible.
INBOUND is packed - you want to get to sessions early, and have a set agenda for what your days will look like.
Not all conferences may allow this, but thankfully, INBOUND lets you pre-register for sessions (learn more here). Pre-registration mostly depends on when you’ve registered for the conference itself, so a good tip is to plan your trip early.
When planning your sessions, ask yourself:
- Which ones should I go to?
- What am I expecting to get from each session, that will justify my time spent in each one?
- What value can I bring back for my agency and my clients?
2. Understand the greater purpose behind the conference.
In this case, INBOUND is a movement disguised as a marketing conference. Marcus Sheridan, the Sales Lion, brings up a great point, that INBOUND is so much more. I won’t steal his thunder, here’s what he understood was the focus of INBOUND 2015:
Social Awareness for the Sake of Thinking and Acting Bigger in Business and Life
3. Find a conference that’s a makes sense for your community or industry.
INBOUND 2017 is a huge deal for sales and marketing, inbound marketers, inbound sales, content marketers, business owners, and obviously everyone inside HubSpot. If a big chunk of your industry is going, it probably means you should be too.
4. Collect business cards from great people.
Practice your elevator pitch. Make sure you can explain your business in under a minute, then make sure you can explain it about 15 seconds. You probably can, but you just haven’t had the need. At a large conference like INBOUND 2017, you’ll need to.
5. Find the right level of session for you.
For me, it was advanced sessions. I wanted to learn how to convince sales to write for marketing, how we could break into video and use it to boost leads and credibility, and how content was changing and where it would be in three years.
If you’re new to inbound marketing, there are some sessions you should absolutely go to, but I’m expecting to see and hear new things that I can use to create great strategies that get results for my clients.
6. Check out the sponsors.
Club INBOUND is like the Big E or Iowa State Fair - the best of the best are going to be there, and the best of the best are going to stand out in an incredible way.
That’s why IMPACT is going to make a splash at INBOUND 2017 with free, in-person Website Throwdowns, our super popular live website critiques!
When you register, you'll also score a FREE "I Survived Website Throwdown" t-shirt, an IMPACT drawstring bag, a shot glass, and you'll be automatically entered to win a $500 Amazon gift card or a free website Redesign.
7. Scope out pre and post-events
While INBOUND officially starts on Tuesday, the festivities kick off on Monday with Community Day.
8. Be on the lookout for networking and growth opportunities.
I’ve been at IMPACT for almost two and a half years. In that time, I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of the biggest names in inbound marketing, but I still have to so much to learn.
At INBOUND, clients were there for after-session schmoozing, other agencies to complain about clients with, and I got to see cool new vendors with cool new products.
My advice to you -- go with a goal - who do you want to meet and how are you going to meet them? How many business cards do you want to get? Some of my clients will be there. Some providers I use will be there. Some competitors will be there. You can learn from of all of them.
9. Study the agenda and recommended sessions online.
Last year, I didn’t want to show up and hate everything, get confused and overwhelmed, or discover the cool sessions already happened and I was late to the party. So, I planned ahead and you should too.
10. Go with goals.
Go to every conference with at least 3-5 goals. Ask yourself:
What am I going to bring back to train my peers on? Is it AdWords? The latest in Google’s search engine algorithm updates? What do I need to bring back in order for this to be considered a successful conference?
11. Be a smart packer:
Fill your suitcase with normal four-day trip stuff. This should include:
- Comfy shoes, that work for standing and sitting
- A messenger bag or convenient backpack
- A laptop or notepad
- Chargers (phone, laptop, etc.)
- A water bottle
For INBOUND, I’d also bring a few extra clothes - they have some crazy parties after the sessions.
12. Have your gadgets ready to go.
Bring your laptop, your phone, and a portable charger if you have one, but make sure to scout out the venue for power outlets.
If it’s a large enough conference, there’ll be a place where charging is central - in this case it’s Club INBOUND.
13. Maintain a fun-business balance.
Just like with work/life balance, you need business/party balance. Enjoy happy hour or any other after-hours networking events, but don’t go too crazy. Early to bed and early to rise makes a man (or woman) healthy, wealthy, and wise.
You want it, we all do -- but don’t be distracted by it.
15. Don’t neglect basic human needs.
It’s easy to lose track of meals or sleep when you’re running around at a conference.
There are food trucks for lunch at INBOUND, but also scout out locations for water and snacks, and bring my own as well. Scout out the bathrooms too - the last thing you want is to be stuck waiting in line before a keynote.
16. Make time for the booths.
There’s someone that will be at INBOUND (or any conference), that will help take your business to the next level. You may not know who that company is, what they do, or anything else, but they’ll be there, and you must find them.
And if your company’s got a website, we hope IMPACT’s booth will that game-changer for you. Learn more and reserve your Inbound Throwdown here.
17. Don’t get overwhelmed.
Take a deep breath. Plan what you need to plan, and don’t forget that the most important thing is to have a good time!
About Derrick Weiss
From print to press release, Derrick has a passion for marketing of all kinds and approaches inbound marketing as a challenge waiting to be solved. At IMPACT, he writes amazing copy and ruthlessly educates clients on inbound marketing best practices. As a mobile power user, Derrick makes sure that every visitor has the best experience possible, no matter the device they use. Most importantly, Derrick makes award-winning guacamole, which is always available upon request.