More than 40 million Americans attend a convention, trade show or conference each year, according to the Convention Industry Council. It’s the perfect opportunity to learn, make connections and implement strategies within your business or agency.
From May 12-15, I had the opportunity to attend Copyblogger Media’s content marketing conference — Authority Rainmaker — in Denver, Colorado. This wasn’t my first conference, but it was my first conference traveling alone – and let’s just say that flying from Buffalo to the Mile-High City to spend the week with complete strangers can be somewhat overwhelming.
As it turns out, attending conferences alone can be extremely liberating. Between the speakers’ sessions, the after parties downtown and my time spent exploring Denver, I quickly owned the solo role – and came back with a few life lessons of my own.
How to Conquer Conferences when Traveling Alone
1). Know your goal before attending.
What do you hope to get out of your experience? Are you spreading awareness about your agency? Writing a blog post on the conference? Want to focus in and learn more about strategies moving forward? Plan ahead and determine which events and sessions will be most relevant and beneficial for you.
Authority Rainmaker only had one venue, one session at a time. One of the best parts of the conference was that I didn’t have to pick and choose (and miss out on keynote speakers). However, conferences don’t always go this way. Make sure you’re prepared to do your homework.
2). Stay at a conference hotel.
Conferences will often offer discounts through select hotels in the area. In my case, the hotel was conveniently located 0.2 miles from the conference venue. Not only can you save money, but walking a short distance alone isn’t a big deal. You’re also more likely to run into other attendees throughout your hotel.
The Denver Hyatt Regency was packed with Authority Rainmaker attendees. The first morning of the conference, I bumped into a lady in the hotel wearing her Authority Rainmaker lanyard. After chatting for a while, we ate breakfast and walked over to the conference together. She ended up being a contact I still keep in touch with.
3). Overuse social media.
Live tweeting may seem like it’s overdone, but when you’re flying solo at a conference, it’s a necessity.
Tweet quotes that resonate with you, post photos on Instagram, and interact with people. Using the conference hashtag (#Authority2015) and Twitter handles of keynote speakers are great ways to spark up conversation. If you’re interested in meeting up with people after the keynote, ask them! You’d be surprised at how many strangers became friends because of tweet outreach.
Bernadette Jiwa, one of the Authority Rainmaker keynote speakers, responded back to me (and I even had the privilege of meeting her). Demian Farnworth, Copyblogger Media’s chief content writer, also favorited my tweet and followed me. A little goes a long way.
4). Socialize – even if it’s out of your comfort zone.
Using social media is one half of the equation, and making it count is the other half. Attending a conference alone may seem like an uncomfortable situation, but it’s the perfect time to step out of your comfort zone and strike conversation with other attendees.
At my last conference, two coworkers accompanied me. It was easy to attend events and socialize in a group setting, because I had a team of my own. This time, instead of being surrounded by my own organization, my only option was to network with others – and surprisingly, it was easy. People are more likely to connect with you when they see that you’re alone. I met up with three ladies on my very first day who also traveled alone, and because of this, we had the opportunity to share dinners and outings together.
My one tip of socializing advice: always be prepared. Have your elevator pitch memorized and your business cards handy. You never know when you’ll run into somebody.
5). Always attend the after party.
One of the biggest values of a conference is the after party. You’re not taking notes, you’re not focusing on the speaker’s takeaways – you’re unwinding after a long day. You’re getting the chance to meet people on a personal level.
Authority Rainmaker offered three different opportunities for attendees to network outside of the conference venue. They weren’t mandatory, but I took advantage of two of them. Out of the entire week, these two nights are when I networked the most. It was here that I learned about other organizations, discussed common goals and exchanged business cards.
The after party is more than just cocktails and craft beers, it’s making lasting connections to bring back with you. After all, conversations are much more valuable than sessions – so make them count.
6). Don’t be afraid to explore.
You may have spent a day traveling to and from this conference, but don’t let the conference consume your trip. You’re there to learn and network, but you’re also there to have the full experience. So take advantage! Don’t be afraid to stroll through the city, check out the local shopping scene or take a road trip to the neighboring town. It gives a very different perspective on attending a conference.
On my afternoon off, I decided to rent a car (extremely affordable) and travel an hour to Rocky Mountain National Park – easily one of the most beautiful destinations on the planet. By taking some time to travel, I was able to take in the full Colorado experience, see how the locals live, and enjoy some time in the mountains before the conference began.
7). Turn contacts into connections.
Once you’re back home and settled into your daily routine, take the time to follow up with the contacts you’ve made. Whether it’s an email, a phone call or a LinkedIn request – turn those contacts into connections.
I began by sorting through my business cards and made sure I requested my contacts on LinkedIn. I also exchanged numbers when I was in Denver, which will allow me to reach out and reconnect in the future. Be sure to keep them in mind for your next conference (and as you move forward in your career).
8). Share the love.
Your organization invested time and money towards your professional development, and you’re coming back with knowledge to share with your agency. Set up a team meeting to share your top takeaways, organize an internal presentation or write a blog post on what you learned on your trip. By doing this, you can help connect the value of the conference to direct business goals.
“If you send someone to a conference and they learn and network and create content, then that’s great,” notes Janine Popick, founder of VerticalResponse and writer for Inc. “But, to truly make it valuable, they’ve got to bring all that back and share it with all the folks who didn’t get to go to the conference but could benefit from the good stuff.”
Have you traveled solo to a conference? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced and lessons you’ve learned? Share some of your thoughts with us on Twitter @QuinlanCompany.