7 Best Practices For Being a Conference Guerrilla

Connectfest 2

The following story is an example of how the actions recommended in this series of articles can work for you. Whilst they are intended mostly for longer conferences they can apply and work equally well to one off events.

How to be a Conference Guerrilla – Part 1 – Pre-Conference can be read here. 

In our time-crunched lives and with the option of virtual events, physically attending conferences can be a hard decision to make.  Approach events with more than just looking at the speaker line up, the complimentary networking sessions or in some cases to get the professional development credits checked off.  Instead actually measure the ‘return on investment’ of attending a conference. Start using this mindset and you will see the value to your organization and your personal brand in getting out there.

I once went to hear Keith Ferrazzi, author of “Never Eat Alone” speak at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business. I learnt about the event from the organizer who had booked me to speak there a few months earlier.

I followed Keith’s advice in his book about ‘bumping‘ the speaker before they go on stage and engaging them quickly to gain a follow-up.  I had brought my copy of the book and asked him to ‘sign it before he became famous’ – a quote from the book. He commented that I had obviously read the book and I said it was (and still is) my most referred and recommended book on networking. I have even given several people copies as gifts.  I then told him that I would like the opportunity to follow up with him to discuss how to make his book the #1 business book in Canada. “Absolutely” he said and handed me his card.

As I walked away,  someone behind him had taken my lead and asked for their book to be signed.  I heard Keith ask the person…. (Bob) for their thoughts on the book and Bob said “I have the guy you were just talking to thank for telling me about this book. I was unemployed at the time and directly as a result of your book, I’ve now landed a job.”

During Keith’s talk he referred to Bob’s story and then picked me out to publicly thank me  – you can see what he had to say in this video clip by clicking here.

Needless to say I had a steady line of people afterward, queuing up to exchange business cards and express more interest.

There are three distinct phases of conferences – Pre, During and After. In How To Be  a Conference Guerrilla – Part 1, we looked at the Pre-Conference actions and activities you want to consider. Now we are going to look at what to do when you are actually at the Conference.


You have laid all the ground work and now have arrived at the conference. If possible, spend some time getting your bearings. Familiarize yourself with the hotel, conference venue and your local surroundings with a walk around.  It will save your worrying about rushing to the next presentation and will serve you well when it comes to being the Mobile Information Booth.

Health & Nutrition

Depending on how long the whole event make sure you have the energy and stamina to last and be at the top of your game.  This is a big investment in your time and money. Avoid the heavy meals and too much alcohol that will slow you down and leave you feeling sluggish. It will be just your luck that you slink off early, tired and miss the opportunity to meet the number one person you wanted to start building a relationship with.  Stay hydrated with lots of water and carry healthy snacks with you.  Finding the time for some daily exercise is also a good plan, even if it’s walking to the conference each morning versus taking a taxi. Plan in a couple of fresh air breaks during the day too.  Being stuck inside can be equally tiring and draining.

Mindset & Mingling

If you have offered to help the conference organizer (as recommended in Part 1) make a point of touching base, letting them know you have arrived, and asking if they need any help. This is a perfect opportunity as well to ask for their help in identifying key people you would like to be introduced to including your ‘Bump the Speaker’ plan. Also let any others who you have arranged to connect with know that you have arrived and reconfirm your meeting arrangements. Review your conference goals and plan out where you need to be throughout the conference.

Mobile Information Booth

Conferences rely a lot on volunteers and often, especially with larger conferences, there are never enough. This can be particularly evident between sessions when peoples are rushing around. If you have taken the time to familiarize yourself with the conference then you can become a mobile information booth. Thus you can offer help with those you are building relationships with.  Also many people do not plan all the sessions they are going to attend so knowing a little about some of the key or interesting sessions also makes you useful.

Time to Party

It is usually expected that conferences have a number of events planned to facilitate networking and even awards ceremonies to recognize industry success. However not everyone wants to go or feels comfortable in these larger venues or are looking to take some time to explore the city or location they are in.  This can give you an ideal opportunity to hold your own mini-event. It could be as simple as arranging dinner at a sought after restaurant, or cocktails before gala night or gathering one of the recognized speakers for a breakfast round table. The great thing about this approach is you control the guest list and can use it as another way to raise your visibility with your key relationship targets.

Bump the Speaker

This ‘tactic’ is right out of Ferrazzi’s book and works really well and I have used it a number of times to have conversations with people like Gary Vaynerchuk, Tom Peters, Jimmy Wales and Seth Godin. The speakers that you already follow and read could be the ones that you would like to know better. The challenge is you are probably not the only one and after they have spoken they are instantly even more famous and have line ups of people wanting to speak to them afterwards. Take the time to plan a strategy to ‘bump the speaker’ before they speak and have a ready, short and impactful statement that gives you an invitation to follow up with them at another time.

Breaktime is Not Playtime

Some of your most productive and successful time, to accomplish your conference goals, will be at the breaks. This is not a time to rush off and catch up on email. You should be looking to maximize the breaks to deepen relationships, make introductions and seek out elusive others who you have not had the chance to meet.

Social Media and Catch Up

Back of the room email catch up time is  a perfect social media check in opportunity too. If the conference does have a # for Twitter see what has been said and add to the conversation where relevant. If there are shareable moments from the speakers be sure you are doing that too. If any of your target people are posting, and you have not managed to connect yet, then this is another chance to get on their radar.  Handling all the conference follow up activities do not need to be left until you return home, some can be done in the ‘back of the room downtime’.

The chapter “‘Be a Conference Commando’ in Keith Ferrazzi’s book “Never Eat Alone” really excels in advice for this particular stage of conferences.

Conferences can be exhausting events so planning and pacing yourself will help you to be as enthusiastic and engaged at the end as you were when you first arrived. As it all wraps up and you head off to the airport you are ready for the final phase ‘After’ in being a successful conference guerilla.

What are some of the things you like to do during a conference to make it worthwhile?

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