By Startupfest Founder, Phil Telio
Having attended my fair share of events and conferences, I know how important it is to find the ones with the highest value for your business because, face it, not many companies have the budget to allow attending all of them, especially when they are out of town or out of country. It’s something we take very seriously into account when planning Startupfest – making sure we create an event that will increase the likelihood of you meeting the right person or partner that will take your business to the next level.
The best events are big enough to attract game-changers and change-makers but still remain small enough to be intimate and collaborative, ensuring guests have face-time with as many players as possible.
Conferences are not for everyone, and plenty of people have written posts on why you should not go to conferences. As an event producer, clearly I am one of those that believe that going to a conference can change the life of your business for the better. No matter which conference you’re planning to attend, it’s best to do a little homework ahead of time, so here are a few tips to get the best experience out of them.
FIND OUT ABOUT THE SPEAKERS, ESPECIALLY THE ONES YOU DON’T RECOGNIZE. Most events, ours included, ensure that they announce speakers as soon as possible and include their bios and links so that you can get to know them better. But don’t just look at the faces you recognize: some of the most memorable speakers with the best insights might have just started doing the rounds. You also want to memorize their faces and look out for them in the crowds, especially at Startupfest, where the likeliness of running into them throughout the week and having a one-on-one conversation (or opportunity to pitch them) is high.
PRACTICE YOUR PITCH. Whether you’ve registered to pitch for a prize or not, take every opportunity you get to practice pitching your idea or business. Your Uber driver, fellow Roadtrip passengers, or the barista at a local café; every chance you get to perfect your pitch increases your odds of nailing it when you run into a potential investor waiting in line next to you for a keynote talk or during a braindate. (And you’ll quickly know how well you’re doing based on their questions and reactions. A bad pitch can break a great idea.)
BE BOLD – INTRODUCE YOURSELF. To everyone and anyone. You never know who you will meet at these events – your next introduction could be the one that helps you land your next big deal. And if you’re attending with someone who is shy, be a connector. Introduce people to one another and mention one thing you learned about them. Small talk is hard and can quickly become awkward but when you start with « Hi John! Have you meet Katherine yet? She’s the Director of Partnerships and has excellent taste in footwear. » Don’t take my word for it, though. LP Maurice, founder of Busbud, in a piece he wrote about his experience at Startupfest said it best:
“I also got to meet great investors from outside Montreal like Fred Destin and others. It would probably be hard to get time on Fred’s calendar outside of the festival, especially for a casual chat. Moreover, a fellow Montreal entrepreneur also attending was kind enough to make a direct intro during the BBQ networking event. Only at Startupfest.”
PICK YOUR 3 (or more) MUST SEE SESSIONS. Great conferences are packed with content, talks, workshops and keynotes, and you want to see all of it. But until our greatly innovative tech community successfully allows us to 3D print intelligent clones of ourselves, it’s not going to happen. So for each day you attend a conference, pinpoint 3 things you just can’t miss and put them in your schedule with an alert (if the event doesn’t have an app for that). For the rest, go with the flow – leave enough room in your schedule to explore and network (especially at Startupfest, you could hang around the Tent Village all day and meet some great people and businesses).
REGISTER EARLY FOR THE IMPORTANT THINGS. Of course, register as soon as you can to a conference to lock in the early bird rates and if an event allows preferential seating, take advantage of it, but I’m talking about prizes. If you’re intending to pitch for any prize or investment contest, place that on top of your priority list and don’t wait until the last minute. For instance, our Grandmother Prize and $100,000 Investor Prize are our most popular events at Startupfest. Anyone who has waited too long to pitch them has regretted it as they fill up fast. So if your objective is to pitch, then pitch first, party second.
BUSINESS CARDS. Not everybody loves them but they can be pretty useful. If you’re intending to hand some out, take a few minutes and write “Nice meeting you at Startupfest” on them, and if you receive some, write where you met that person on the back of it or whatever the two of you discussed. As soon as you take a break to drink some water, add them on LinkedIn or send them an email, reminding them where you met and what the next step you discussed was.
VOLUNTEER LIKE A PRO. Most events count on the generous support of volunteers. If you are looking to connect with the whole community and maybe even get a chance to walk around the event with speakers or if you are looking to make connections with community leaders, then volunteering may just be for you. A big bonus to volunteering is that you typically do not have to pay for your pass to the event. Bottom line, volunteers are involved participants, get to meet and greet lots of great people, and who knows… you may even get a cool T out of the deal.
Another great thing to do when attending an out-of-town conference is to extend your stay and explore the city. Call it a personal ROI. Most conference cities are beautifully packed with things to do and festivals to explore, and while you’re in town it’s always fun to go discover the tech communities around the city. Keep an eye out for my recommendations on what to do in Montreal in the next few weeks.
This article was originally featured on Medium.