Cinco Commandments For Optimizing Your Conference Experience

By Brian Skarin

Attending your first SEO conference is an important milestone in any online marketer’s career. Mine took place this past October when I had the privilege of attending and speaking at SMX East in New York City. Sure, there are plenty of you out there for whom the panel style conference format has become old hat, but for a first timer like myself, it was quite literally, a whole new world.

I went alone, knew no one and had no idea what to expect. So read on, dear friends, for pitfalls to avoid and how to squeeze every last bit of value from your trip.

I. Finding the Preferred Platform From Which to Preach

Of course, the first step in attending a conference is to discover where they are, when they are and which one is right for you. Lanyrd is an amazing directory for browsing any and all upcoming events as well as a great resource for video, audio and slides from past presentations. They feature events from the world over, so no matter where you are you will surely find one that fits what you’re looking for.

II. Pitch Perfect

No matter what, ALWAYS submit a pitch when the option is available. Many conferences post brief summaries of the session themes with an open call for pitch submissions in the months leading up to the event. The many varied topics within the agenda should mean that at least one of them will resonate with you and your particular set of skills.

Given the nature of our ever-evolving industry, your experience working with a recent trend or tactic for maximizing the latest Google+ update is likely to provide a fresh perspective to a good portion of the audience. Aside from the few big names who build their reputations on recognizing trends early, the vast majority of us are constantly trying to tweak our strategies to meet the demands of the audience and score the almighty conversion.

While there is no science to the “perfect pitch,” standing out among the crowd makes a big difference. Ross Hudgens put together a great guide on how to get accepted to speak at SMX, which recommends a strategy of submitting a creative pitch that competes against the fewest pitches. Getting a pitch together is truly a win/win no matter how you slice it, as it can only go 1 of 2 ways:

1. You get accepted, your ticket is FREE and you knock the audience dead with your stellar Local Search knowledge while adding a few new names to your list of twitter followers.

  • For speakers, making your presentation available as widely as possible is key. While the organizers will often post the speaker presentations on their own site, setting up an account in SlideShare and making yours available immediately before and after your presentation will help keep it fresh in the minds of your audience. Since most of us can’t be everywhere at once, SlideShare has taken to including the latest and greatest decks from recent conferences in the bottom right corner of their homepage, offering a fantastic free resource for keeping up with what’s happening.

  • Track dat ish’ with UTM parameters. No idea? OK, real quick, UTM parameters are simply tags you can add to a link which allow you to closely monitor your referring sources in Google Analytics. Monique has gone into great detail on the subject before, so get yourself educated and monitor your social traffic like a pro. Add UTM parameters to the links in your presentation, so you can track which visitors came to your website from the presentation itself.
  • Did anyone send give you some love during or after your presentation? Always be sure to knowledge and call attention to anyone who shared kind words!

2. You get denied. Bummer. But hey, organizing and putting your ideas down on paper is never a bad thing. You’ve now laid out the bones of what will become your next great blog post! Take it as a learning experience and use it to make your next pitch that much better.

  • There is usually a different conference going on every month, and unless it’s MozCon, they’re all pretty interchangeable as far as their relevance, so consider tweaking your existing pitches to submit to a different event.

III. To Mingle or Not to Mingle…The Answer Is: DRINK

Get comfy, find out where people are going to be…and be there. Take advantage of any and all meetup opportunities. The one meetup I was THIS close to skipping turned out to be where I met some of the most influential people at the conference and got to rub shoulders with those to whom I would otherwise be just another face in the crowd. Also, there are usually snacks and free booze.

  • Following notable industry names on Twitter and hoping they notice your retweet of their latest article is the first step in joining in on the conversation…but nothing can ever beat shaking hands and meeting face to face.
  • Talk to as many people as possible. Don’t be the shy one at the lunch table, strike up a conversation with whomever you find yourself sitting with, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to make contacts and connections by simply saying hello.

IV. Choosing Your Sessions and Taking Notes

Base your session choices around topics you are somewhat unfamiliar with. I found the most valuable sessions were the ones I had very little prior knowledge about. Take note of the most important takeaways from each presentation, but don’t get caught up trying to keep track of every little thing that’s said. Like I stated previously, you’ll be able to review their slides after the conference, so it’s better to be engaged and absorb the core of what’s being said rather than trying to scribble down notes or live blog the entire presentation.

V. Making the Most of What you Have Learned

  • Follow up with those you met and keep in touch via social media.
  • Download the presentations you found most helpful (and those panels you weren’t able to make it to) and share what you’ve learned with your co-workers back home.
  • Write a recap post highlighting your experience and share it with the conference organizers.

In the end, attending and speaking at SMX was truly a great experience for me, and if you’re on the fence about whether you should make your way to a similar gathering I would highly recommend giving it a shot. The atmosphere was inspiring and the information stimulating, an environment not easily found elsewhere.

You’ve got the tools, you’ve got me, you’ve got a classic Tom Petty song to groove to while you write your pitch…, get out there and be somebody!

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