How to Be a Conference Guerrilla – Part 1 – Pre-Conference

Connectfest 3

Recently I was the keynote speaker at the HR Leaders Conference taking place on a boat on the River Danube in Bratislava, Slovakia. It was a great conference and of course the location was pretty unique!

In our time crunched lives and with the option of virtual events, physically attending conferences can be a hard decision. I consider the speaker line up, the networking sessions or in some cases the professional development credits. I also consider the cost, both in terms of dollars and ‘lost production’.

However very few people actually measure the ‘return on investment’ of attending a conference. This is important because ‘getting out there’ adds value to your organization and your personal brand.

There is a lot more to it than showing up. Here’s how to plan like a conference guerrilla.


The meetings and conference industry runs into the $100’s of billions each year, so there are always plenty of conferences to choose from. With so much latest research and information available to access and use at the click of a mouse, going to a conference to hear the latest leading edge speakers should not be at the top of your priorities.

The true value of attending a conference are the relationships that you develop.

What is your goal? Is it to find new business for your company, network to find your next job or are there certain industry contacts you want to make?  Are there less expensive ways you can accomplish this goal other than conference attendance?

You might also want to review where your personal brand stands right now with a Personal Brand Audit

Review & Research

First step is deciding which conference to attend. There can be a number of factors worth taking in to account;

  • Who do you follow in terms of influencers and where are they speaking so you can connect with likeminded people.
  • What are the conferences have you attended before that have realized some value in terms of relationships or business?
  • Where have your colleagues or peers gone to in the past where they have experienced similar benefits?
  • When are the people are that you want to reach attending conferences? If you want to meet senior finance professionals who have their eye on technology then a ‘fintech’ conference is likely to be more fruitful than say a logistics conference, but its probably not happening around year end.
  • Why would this be the best conference to attend? Often organizers will provide statistical information and attendee demographics for sponsors and exhibitors, be sure to delve in to those numbers.
  • How will you know you have made the right choice? Look for other data points to verify that the conference you have decided on will be the best choice.

Choosing where to go is not about what is interesting to you, but more about what is interesting to those you are trying to reach.

Registration & Booking

Once you have decided which conference to attend, book it. Do not procrastinate, otherwise you run the risk of changing your mind, finding excuses or you miss out because it fills up fast.

  • Take advantage of the early bird discount registration.
  • Reserve spaces at the events you want to attend, such as opening night networking or pre-conference workshops.
  • Book the accommodation at or near where the main conference is happening. The organizers usually have preferential rates negotiated and it’s a false economy to look at saving a few dollars in a cheaper hotel across town if it means leaving key events early or arriving late or worse missing out on meeting someone by chance in the lobby.
  • Make travel arrangements that give you buffers to arrive in plenty of time and stay long enough to make those personal connections with other conference attendees.

Offer to Help

Organizers of conferences are busy, are often volunteers and can be over whelmed. Make a point of reaching out and seeing if you can help in any way. In his book “Never Eat Alone” networking and relationship expert Keith Ferrazzi has an excellent chapter titled ‘Be a Conference Commando’and he talks about the benefits of offering time, creativity or connections to help an organizer. The gratitude can be repaid with the inside scoop, expert introductions or even special invites to private events.

Who to Meet?

Once registered, get very familiar with the conference, who is speaking and who else is going.  Some events will give registrants access to the attendee list or have private social media groups set up. Take the time to go through the list of people and identify who you are interested in building a relationship with.

Also do not forget you most likely have connections and prospects outside of the conference who are local to the event. This is an ideal opportunity to get in touch and let them know you are in town and set up a meeting either before or after. Do not make plans during the conference though as your focus needs to be at the event.


It is a lot easier to ‘meet’ fellow attendees prior to the event because now most conferences will have activity across the major social media channels, especially Twitter and Facebook.  Make plans to do the following;

  • Make note of the # for the conference and use it in any posts or updates you make. If the conference does not have one be sure to go to your new friend the organizer and suggest it.
  • Announce that you are going to the event on all of your social media accounts. It raises your personal brand profile and lets people know you are continuing to develop and learn.
  • Get involved in conversations and start to pre-build relationships with others.
  • Go to the speakers’ social media accounts and let them know you are looking forward to hearing them speak.


Some larger conferences may even have their own app. Some can be very basic with maps and static information and others are more interactive.

Beyond that and the social media apps, there are several others that you may consider using to expand the announcements and expand potential connections.

Evernote is the ultimate note taking, picture storing, receipt filing and card scanning app all in one.  This eliminates the need to have different apps for different tasks.  If you use it effectively, you are not left with a pile of “To Do’s’ on your return.  Once the business card is scanned and captured, Evernote displays all the information recognized from the card. If you are logged into LinkedIn and the email from the card matches a LinkedIn profile, Evernote pulls in additional information about the contact.

Tripit  keeps all your travel plans in one master mobile itinerary. It also lets you share your plans with your LinkedIn network and you can always control the privacy settings to share only certain aspects of your trip.

Trendr is a mobile meeting app that shows you other professionals who are nearby and makes it easy to meet. You can easily discover your colleagues, group members, or event attendees around you.

Foursquare lets you find local places to go in any city with reviews and updates by local people and visitors.

Yelp has more detailed reviews of local businesses, which is especially useful for finding restaurants to meet at.

You may not get time to do all of these pre-conference steps thoroughly, but it is important that when you or your company are making this type of investment you look to maximize the benefit of your time away.

Before you leave write down three clear goals of the conference trip. Make them very specific and measurable so that you remain focused when you are there.  Share them with a colleague or friend and commit to reporting back when you return as to your success.

This is Part 1 in a 3 Part series. In Part 2 we will look at the steps to take to continue building your personal brand whilst at the conference and stay focused on those outcomes.

What advice would you like to give to someone before they head off to a conference?  I would love to hear

P.S. Before you head off to your next conference understand where your personal brand stands right now. One of the most popular personal brand insights I offer is a Personal Brand Audit – check out our limited 50% off offer here

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