So, you’re all booked to attend one of your first conferences! It’s an exciting moment, but it’s time to make the most of this opportunity. The pressure’s on to make the investment of time and money pay off—you don’t want to miss any opportunities! Performing well at such events can be a game-changer for startups: Meeting a new lead who will become a key client, a first touchpoint with a VC or investor, or forging partnerships with other startups, to name a few examples.
That’s why we have collected the best tips from our top event expert, Pascal Condamine, VP Startups, to create a conference playbook. He covers what to do before, during, and after a conference, including his to-do list for startups who have invested in an exhibitor's booth.
Pre-conference prep for startups
Learning about the conference beforehand is key to creating and achieving realistic goals. When prepping for the conference, don’t forget the classic saying: knowledge is power! Preparation is key to getting a return on the time and money you’ve invested.
Location, location, location
Pay close attention to where events are located. Often, daytime events are in one area, while evening events are in another. Take a moment to open up your favorite navigation app and prioritize where you will need to be and when. On a personal level, this is also key in helping you decide where you should book your accommodation.
Get your (arrival) timing right
If you are an exhibitor, you’ll need to arrive well before the event begins to set up your booth and confirm your materials are present. Ideally, you would arrive the night before. At the latest, plan to check your booth a few hours before the event starts. And don’t forget to check if there are networking events planned before the conference starts!
It’s all about the agenda
Make sure you take a look at the scale of the conference–it will help you prepare mentally for an environment that could include tens of thousands of people. But it’s also an important reminder that guests come to conferences with their own agendas. So, don’t rely on luck to meet the right people. C-level execs, investors, and journalists have their schedules planned before they step through the conference doors, and often are only at an event for a limited amount of time. The same thing goes for other companies and startups! To make sure you see the people and companies necessary in order to accomplish your goals, book your appointments in advance. One rookie mistake Pascal has seen over and over again is people arriving at a conference with no meetings booked.
Don’t shy away from reaching out well before the conference via either the conference app, email, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. Introduce yourself briefly, capture their interest, and get that commitment on their schedule. Follow up is key here too. Everyone gets a little loopy during a conference. So, be sure you send a reminder regarding the meeting either the day before or a few hours prior.
If you're looking to meet other startups, look at the exhibitors list and target the ones that will serve your goals. Sometimes you can’t make an appointment, so reserve a chunk of time in your schedule to visit the startups and companies you couldn’t get a commitment from.
To conquer a conference, set objectives
Now that you’ve done your due diligence in preparing for the conference, you can set your objectives: Consider the following questions.
- If you are exhibiting, how many leads do you want your booth to generate?
- How much revenue must be generated from these leads to offset the investment you made in your booth?
- What investors are absolute must-meets?
- Which partnerships do you want to solidify or begin cultivating?
Once you’ve done your research and set your objectives, it's time to prepare for the conference itself by going through Pascal's personal checklist.
Your conference checklist
Yes, in normal life, you never really use business cards. But when you are at a conference or event, it’s still an extremely common way to exchange information. And remember to bring plenty of them! It’s better to bring home extras than to run out halfway through the event. You’ll be able to use what’s left at the next conference!
Some of these conferences are enormous, spread out over 4-5 halls. You will be on your feet all day. Pascal recommends wearing two pairs of socks to avoid blisters, or even compression socks.
Water bottle and lip balm
At these conferences, it’s usually warm, and you walk and talk a lot. So it’s easy to get dehydrated without realizing it, which will decrease your energy level (among other things). Since conference spaces usually have water fountains, bring your bottle, drink small amounts frequently, and protect your lips with lip balm.
Badges and Bracelet
Print out your badge and bring it with you, or check if the conference has set up a tent outside the airport where you can pick up your materials. That way, you don’t have to wait in line once the conference actually starts. And above all, don’t lose either your badge or your bracelet! You’ll waste time trying to replace them.
You’re at the conference–What now?
Events and Networking
As we covered earlier, with the right preparation, you can connect with investors, media, startup ecosystem actors, and inspiring entrepreneurs. Having that facetime cannot be overrated in terms of its value. Even if those relationships don’t immediately bear fruit, you never know what the future holds.
Beyond scheduling meetings, it’s also important to register for auxiliary events surrounding a conference, which are usually at night. You can find information about some on the conference website, but you should also check social media and Eventbrite for private events. Try searching by the conference name and dedicated hashtag to surface as many results as possible.
Finally, when it comes to networking, don’t count out the lunch hour. There will be large crowds, so avoid the lines between noon and 2 p.m., but don’t be afraid to sit next to people you don’t know. This informal networking is called hallway track, and is one of the best things about conferences!
You've rented a booth: How to make the investment worth it
Never leave your booth unoccupied!
This seems obvious, but you would be surprised how often booths are left empty. You should always have 2-3 people manning your booth. That’s about the sweet spot for most booths. Don’t forget to collect visitors’ information, either. At most conferences these days, there is a QR code on everyone’s badge you can scan with the conference app. This is highly important for following up with leads once the conference is over.
Meaning, branding is key here. All your team members should be wearing branded clothing. These conferences are crowded and it can be really difficult for people to identify who they are talking to, or find representatives from a company. So deck your team and booth out with swag, and have a few freebies for people to take home!
Have your elevator pitch ready
An elevator pitch lasts 60 seconds, max. You should be able to pitch your company mission in 1-2 sentences, and only develop if you are asked. Taking any longer is a waste of your and the attendee’s time. Tons of people will pass through your booth during a conference. Pitching quickly will allow both you and the person you are speaking to the chance to quickly evaluate whether it’s worth continuing to invest time in each other. Keep in mind that you can always schedule a follow up call or meeting.
Don’t take meetings at your booth
The old adage “time is precious” is especially true when it comes to conferences. So avoid taking meetings at your booth! There are a few exceptions, like if you are exhibiting during the whole conference, or the attendee is only present for a limited amount of time. But otherwise, schedule meetings for when you are not exhibiting.
That wraps up Pascal's conference playbook! Keep this list of tips and tricks close as the event season ramps up. With this expertise behind you, you won’t miss your chance to make the most of your investment.