How to Make the Most of Your Conference Experience

By Stine Holmgaard, COO & Partner at Native Advertising Institute
Sep 3, 2018


Experience tells me that there are two common expectations for conference attendees:

  • Wanting to bring home new knowledge
  • Not being bored during this process

Most people are obviously going or being sent to conferences to become smarter in their field, which leads to new contributions to the company. However, the truth is also that for many, conferences are experienced as a break - a quick get-away from the usual workday.

In my time as a conference organizer, I’ve met and talked with many attendees. What I’ve experienced is that the people who feel a conference fulfil their expectations are the people who:

  • Realize they are not there to take a break
  • Create a plan for their attendance

The first bullet point is at your own expense. The second one, however, is something I can help you with.

Read on to get some tips and tricks on making your own conference plan shine.


Before the conference

Create goals relating to the programme

What is it exactly that you want from the conference experience?

Is it new knowledge? About what subject? Is it new collaborators? To solve what type of problem? Is it perhaps to get an expertized look at a specific product?

Write down a few concrete goals before taking off, it motivates more than loose thoughts and ideas. This leads to the next important part of your strategy…

Who do you want to meet?

I see many different types of conference attendees. Some of them are “the Sponge”, coming to take in everything, “the Superfan”, coming to meet their idol (typically the keynote speaker), “the Break-out King”, attending the conference to get some time off work… and then there is “the Networker”, which is the person coming to connect with new industry people.

Whether or not you are the networker, you should look into who else is attending the conference.

You might learn a lot just from showing up but imagine the contacts and information you could bring home by doing some research on the speakers and companies attending. They just might be your next colleague or customer...

Stay organized

The well-prepared conference attendees always have their essentials by hand:

Notepad, pen, computer/tablet, charger/power bank, and, of course, business cards.

Also, remember to put on your email auto-reply. One less thing to stress about, one less thing to steal your sparse time.

During the conference

Show up in good time

You know them too well. The person showing up ten minutes late, making their noisy entrance to a meeting (however quiet they are trying to be).

But besides avoiding to be the annoying, disturbing person, there is actually another incentive to showing up in good time. If you are there early, before the sessions start, you can get a cup of coffee, get a great seat and perhaps network a little bit before the first speaker appears on stage.  

Spread out

Having a colleague by your side all day always feels comfortable and safe. However, this safe place is also what usually stops the formation of new connections. Make sure, if you’re coming as a group, to spread out during the day. It might feel unnatural, but you see these people every day. Perhaps you and your colleague even have different interests and needs which is a good reason to go with separate tracks. Remember: New people, new insights.

Strengthen customer relations

I made my case about the conference being a place for new connections. BUT, a conference is also a good chance to reach out to current business partners and customers. Consider inviting them along as a way to share new knowledge and trends in your field.

After the conference day, you might want to take the partner or customer out for dinner. Here, you can discuss the inputs of the day, and together figure out how you make the most of your new learnings.


After the conference

Organize your new contacts and conversations

At the conference, you will hopefully meet someone you can’t live without (in your work life that is). Make sure you don’t have to.

When the last speaker’s mic has been detached, the stage light is turned off and the doors closed, it’s time for you to jump on LinkedIn and connect with your new contacts.

Didn’t catch their full name? You might find them searching for the conference hashtag. For Native Advertising DAYS 2019 it’s going to be #NativeDAYS19. Perhaps they joined the conversation on SoMe?

When you get in touch, lean into a conversation, for example by continuing your last conversation from a lunch session. Maybe you’ve found new perspectives or references to the subject.

Plan how to follow up

Many speakers refer to research, statistics and relevant websites in their presentation. As you attend their session you might think to yourself “I have to look this up when I get home!”.

What happens from here on is often that the everyday life hits when getting back to the office. All the good intentions are left to rot in the drawer and those inspiring inputs are gone.

Therefore: Plan how to follow up. By scheduling an hour or two in the calendar on the day you are back at the office, you have the chance to go over the key takeaways from the conference.

Pass on your learnings to your team

New knowledge is always good. As I started out saying, this is actually a great expectation for conference attendees.

If your colleagues didn’t get the chance to go, share your new knowledge from the conference with them.

Invite them for a meeting where you go through your five key takeaways, your favorite speaker, and tools you find useful for your company.

I hope to see you on the next edition of Native Advertising DAYS in Berlin, November 11-13th. With more than 400 conference attendees from 45 countries, you are guaranteed to meet new, inspiring people!

Story by Stine Holmgaard

Apart from running NAI, Stine also spearheads the Native Advertising DAYS conference which she initiated in 2015, back when native advertising was merely a buzzword and dedicated budgets for native advertising were nothing but a soft whisper in the marketing industry. It’s safe to say, that the whisper has changed to a roar since then. In 2016, Stine launched the Native Advertising Awards program, a program that has grown to become the premier global acknowledgment for publishers and advertisers within the native advertising. Prior to her role at the Native Advertising Institute, she worked as Head of Events at Brand Movers, the leading content marketing agency in Denmark. Here, she ran the Clever Content Conference, Scandinavia’s biggest conference on content marketing.

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