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Attending an Industry Conference? How to Find the Right Conference-Twitter Balance

April 29, 2014

Tweeting at conferences

Photo source: S&S Media on flickr.

Note: This post was originally published at LinkedIn.

Introduction

I’m about to give you advice on things I’ve failed miserably at.

You see, I love Twitter. I use it every day. Put me at an industry conference? My love grows into an addiction. Armed with a smartphone, you can become a Twitter rock star at industry conferences. Take this to the extreme, however, and you can miss out on a lot of what the conference has to offer. After all, your goal was to attend a conference and not to spend the entire day on Twitter.

An Acid Test for Twitter Overuse

Here’s the perfect acid test to know whether you’ve overused Twitter at a conference: do you need to re-charge your phone before the conference is over?

It’s happened for me at every conference I’ve attended in 2014 (thank you for those sponsored charging stations!) My use of Twitter has taken away from other things the conference has to offer. I’ll always be able to connect with like-minded people on Twitter. I won’t have the same opportunity to engage with them face-to-face.

Here are six ways to keep your conference Twitter use in check.

1) For every 10 new people you follow, introduce yourself to 1 person at the conference.

I follow the event’s hash tag on Twitter. I like to read attendees’ observations about a session. I even like to hear what sponsors have to say, aside from the invitations to visit them at booth #317. When someone shares an interesting tweet, I follow them.

It’s quite easy to follow 50+ new people in a day. It’s harder to introduce yourself to real people in real life. So make sure you do that.

Photo source: TopRank Online Marketing on flickr.

2) For every 5 tweets, share 1 thought with another attendee.

It’s very easy to quote the keynote speaker and add the event’s hash tag to your tweet. It’s even easier to retweet someone else (yes, those get counted towards the 5). But how about the old fashioned way of communicating: face to face? Sharing your thoughts on Twitter is great. A lot of people can see it. Mix that with the more personal approach of expressing your thoughts to other people. In person.

3) Find and meet 5 people from the Twitter stream.

Once at a highly-tweeted conference, I got into the elevator during a break. I recognized another attendee from her Twitter profile photo. She and I had been tweeting during the same session. I knew her name (from Twitter, of course), so I introduced myself, saying that I recognized her from Twitter. Do this five times.

4) Put the phone down every 5 minutes or every 3 slides.

Photo: these two ought to take breaks to put their phones down. Photo source: Ed Yourdon on flickr.

There are some conference sessions (especially workshop sessions) that are learning-focused. When I’m in such a session, I take a lot of notes. If I’m tweeting every two minutes, I’m not able to take as many notes. And, I’m less likely to have heard all the valuable nuggets shared by the presenter. So force yourself to put the phone down. I recommend an interval of 5 minutes or 3 slides.

5) Collected business cards > number of tweets.

Sometimes, I’ll collect a business card from an attendee and the exchange will be superficial. We bumped into each other while waiting for coffee, but didn’t have a meaningful conversation. That being said, business card collection is a good proxy for the amount of networking and conversations you’ve had. Aim to have your collected business cards exceed the number of your tweets at the conference. To date, I’ve failed miserably on this metric, but hope to achieve this goal in future conferences.

6) Include 1 out of every 4 shared photos in a post-conference blog post.

Photos are becoming an increasing percentage of the tweet streams at events. They also work very well in blog posts about the conference. Write a blog post to share your takeaways from the conference. For every four photos you share on Twitter, pick one of them to include in your post.

Photo source: JD Lasica on flickr. Follow JD on Twitter: @JDLasica.

Conclusion

To get the most out of a conference, set some goals before going. Remind yourself of those goals throughout the day(s) of the conference. Twitter can help you achieve some of those goals, but stop to ask yourself whether (and when) it’s getting in the way. I’ll be sure to do the same for my next conference.

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How to Be a Twitter Rock Star at Conferences and Events

April 13, 2013

Introduction

With its 140 character payload and ability to follow hash tags, it seems Twitter was designed for events. For me and many others, participating in Twitter conversations significantly enhances my event experience. I find more, learn more and meet many more people than I otherwise would have. Let’s consider tips that can transform you from a conference tweeter to a Twitter rock star.

How to Gain Visibility

ALWAYS include the conference hash tag.

Do this before you pick up your badge: determine the conference hash tag. It’s usually on the event page or printed on signage at the event. If not, simply ask staffers for it. Include the hash tag in ALL of your tweets. If you don’t, your tweets will not be seen. And if the conference doesn’t have a hash tag, create one yourself and encourage others to use it.

Temporarily place the hash tag in your Twitter profile.

If the hash tag is “#conference2013,” then consider adding something like this in your Twitter profile: “Attending #conference2013 this week. Tweet me if you’re there!” Now, when attendees see your tweets and check out your profile, they’ll be more inclined to follow and interact with you.

Share photos.

Take photos of the keynote session, exhibit floor, signage – basically, anything interesting. Users love them.

Engage with influencers.

Influencers include session speakers, along with knowledgeable and well-followed attendees. Follow them and engage with them. If they reply back to you or RT you, others will be sure to take notice.

How to Gain Followers

Liberally follow others.

I use the Twitterific iPhone app at conferences

Pictured: The Twitterific app for iPhone. I scan for users, view their profiles and follow liberally.

Fellow attendees have at least one thing in common with you (after all, you went to the same event). So wouldn’t they be good people to follow? Follow the folks who are actively tweeting. The follow helps promote your existence. They may miss your insightful conference tweets, but when you follow them, chances are they’ll check out you (and follow back).

Retweet and Interact with others.

Let’s face it, sometimes at a conference, you really just need to focus on the conference itself. You’re sitting in a captivating session and learning a ton of things. You can’t afford to compose a thoughtful tweet. What you can do, however, is quickly scan the tweet stream for others’ insights. Retweet (“RT”) those insights and share your thoughts by replying to some users. Now, quick! Get back to that awesome session.

Quote interesting nuggets from sessions.

Just like you curate (and share) great content on Twitter, your “job” at a conference session is to curate interesting nuggets and quotes. Did the presenter just say something that made the audience go, “Oooh”? If so, quote the presenter via a tweet. You’re likely to get RT’s and follows.

Give shout-outs to exhibitors.

If you visit an exhibitor booth or have lunch with an exhibitor rep, give a shout-out to them (on Twitter). They’ll love it! And they’ll likely tweet you back, follow you, RT you and offer you some nifty conference swag.

General Tips

Always tweet IN CONTEXT.

I once took a photo as I walked into the keynote session. It was a humorous image, tied to the theme of the event and I really wanted to share it. However, once the keynote kicked off, everyone was tweeting about what the presenter was saying. If I tweeted the photo then, it would have been entirely out of context. So I waited. I tweeted the photo during the break, so it could get more visibility.

Facilitate face-to-face meet-ups with other Twitter users.

Another attendee and I tweeted quite frequently at a conference. When I rode the same elevator as her, I recognized her via her Twitter profile photo. I introduced myself and we chatted about the conference (for as long as an elevator ride would permit). “Upgrading” from a Twitter connection to a face-to-face meet-up is a great thing.

Take a break.

This won’t make you a Twitter rock star, but make sure you take adequate breaks from Twitter and enjoy the conference. For highly active Twitter users, there’s a delicate balance that must be managed. You don’t want to be so active on Twitter that you miss out on the great things the conference has to offer (kind of like visiting the Grand Canyon, tweeting too much and missing the view).

For Exhibitors: tweet in context with the sessions.

Let’s say there’s a breakout session on social media marketing and you’re an exhibitor that provides social media marketing software.

The session is scheduled for 2pm. At 2:15pm, issue a tweet such as, “Want a dashboard to manage social media marketing for your entire team? Visit us in booth #127 after the session.” Bonus points if the presenter is talking about dashboards precisely at 2:15pm.

For presenters: share your slides as you go on stage.

Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang) was the first (that I’ve seen) to establish this practice. Some presenters provide their slides after their session. Jeremiah provides his slides before or during the session.

Some presenters will schedule a tweet to share their slides as they’re taking the stage (and then mention the fact during their opening segment). Attendees always request the slides, so proactively sharing them is a good practice.

Addendum: Jeremiah provides additional details:

Conclusion

So there you have it. Follow these tips to gain visibility, gain new followers and make new connections at your next conference. Be sure, though, that you’re getting the most out of the conference. Twitter is fantastic, but it can also consume your attention and time and create missed opportunities. Find the right balance and you’ll be rocking the conference in full Twitter style.


Crazy Idea: Let Attendees Define Your Event’s Sponsorship Packages

March 11, 2013

Let attendees define your event's sponsorship packages

Introduction

Combined with attendance fees (i.e. ticketing), event sponsorships are the economic fuel behind meetings, events and conferences. In a post titled “Questioning the Effectiveness of Conference Sponsorships,” Sean McGinnis (@seanmcginnis) raised an interesting question.

For McGinnis, conferences that charge for admission and sell sponsorships (at the same time) put attendees in the awkward position of being (a) a customer (of the conference) and (b) a product (for sponsors).

My solution? Let attendees define the event’s sponsorship packages.

The Role of Sponsors

Image source: User Phillie Casablanca on flickr.

McGinnis notes that in his 312 Digital business, his goal is to deliver digital marketing conferences without sponsorship. And this model is fine: the mission of your conference is to educate marketers and you can deliver on that mission, soup to nuts.

There are larger conferences and trade shows, however, whose objective is to bring together entire industries. These tend to be run by media companies and associations. Traditionally, sponsors have received a bad rap in these sorts of events.

Most attendees think of sponsors as the people who give out schwag and spend the event pitching their product. Sponsors can (and should) play a much more meaningful role. Consider industries such as technology, healthcare and finance and you quickly realize that sponsors provide the products and services the industry uses.

Sponsors, and by extension, the customers who purchase and implement the sponsors’ products, actually define some industries. The customers, after all, are the same people who attend these events.

Sponsors and The Information Ecosystem

I consider events and conferences an “information ecosystem,” with sponsors as an integral part of that ecosystem. Too often in events, there’s a wall: a separation of church and state between “organic” content and sponsor content.

Look no further than the booth. By definition, the partitions that designate the beginning and end of a booth tell us that “inside these partitions is where you engage with this sponsor.” To me, that’s unnatural. To create the most useful information ecosystem, we should get rid of booths and embed sponsor “education” (content) more naturally throughout the event.

Attendee-Driven Sponsorships: The Benefits

Image source: User Martina Photography on flickr.

Let attendees define your sponsorship packages. You’ll have final say, of course, but attendees define a set of packages from which you choose. Benefits will follow.

It puts attendees in charge.

By handing over a portion of the event planning, you give attendees more “buy in.” In addition, attendees will naturally propose sponsor interactions and programs that place the focus on the attendee experience (where it rightfully belongs). The result is a better event.

It increases engagement with sponsors.

Sponsors will see increased engagement with attendees, because both parties are engaged in activities defined by the attendees. When you allow attendees to determine the packages and they’ve “bought in” to shaping the event itself, all parties win: attendees, sponsors and event organizers (you).

How to Solicit Input from Your Attendees

First, you’ll need to define a basis for your conversations with attendees. Perhaps that’s last year’s sponsorship packages. Or, it’s a set of proposed packages that you’re considering for this year. Some ideas (and affordable tools) to solicit the input:

  1. Regular Google+ Hangouts, hosted by your staff.
  2. Wiki pages (PBworks is an option – and it’s free) that attendees can use to document their ideas.
  3. A tumblr microblog – publish proposed packages and allow attendees to “like” and comment on them.
  4. Create a public document on Google Docs and allow attendees to provide comments there.
  5. Host an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on Reddit (if your target audience is active there).

Brainstorming Sponsorship Concepts

If I were asked to develop sponsorship packages for an event or conference I planned to attend, here are some concepts I’d suggest:

  1. Eliminate booths.
  2. Use game mechanics to award sponsors. Instead of “Top Chef,” you’d award a “Top Sponsor.”
  3. Attendees determine the game mechanics parameters.
  4. Ask attendees (in advance) for their top business challenges and make sponsors responsible for addressing them.
  5. Have attendees define the sponsor’s “function” they wish to engage with (e.g. Engineering, Executive, Sales, Marketing, etc.)
  6. Implement Donna Kastner’s suggestion on a 5 Smart Ways Theater, but allow sponsors to provide the presentations. Disallow sponsors from mentioning any of their products.
  7. Give attendees a limited number of “tickets” to schedule short appointments with sponsors. Learned a lot from a sponsor’s “5 Ways” talk and want to chat with them? Use one of your tickets. The relative scarcity of tickets will create higher quality interactions between attendees and sponsors.

Potential Roadblocks to Adoption

Image source: User Zahlm on flickr.

Having laid out a framework for how this all might work, I realize that it’s far from easy. Let’s consider a few roadblocks for making this happen.

Wanted: A Passionate and Active Attendee Base

Attendees may be passionate about your event. They look forward to it all year long. But that doesn’t mean they’re interested in taking action above and beyond the usual call of duty. Only highly passionate and active attendees will have the desire and energy to roll up their sleeves and define your event’s sponsorship packages.

Taking Risks

Let’s face it: this is an “outside the box” concept. Event organizers and sponsors like to mitigate risk, rather than increase it. In many cases, next year’s event doesn’t happen if the sponsors from this year’s event aren’t happy (i.e. don’t renew). Perhaps a phased approach is necessary. In year one, have attendees develop a single sponsorship package and see how that goes.

Conclusion

We like to think that “the attendee always comes first,” but sometimes economic realities get in the way of such pure and noble goals.

With the sponsorships you sell, sponsors will walk the fine line between “providing useful information” and “let me sell you my product.” Straying too far to the right (selling) leaves attendees with a bad taste in their mouths.

By providing attendees with an opportunity to define desired sponsor interactions, you’re truly “putting attendees first.” And, you may find that the quality of the resulting interactions make your sponsors more satisfied than ever.


Unable to Attend an Event? 10 Ways Twitter Fills the Gap

October 15, 2012

Introduction

IMEX America, which describes itself as “America’s worldwide exhibition for incentive travel, meetings and events,” took place October 9-11, 2012 in Las Vegas.

I didn’t attend the event, but noticed that 20+% of my Twitter #eventprofs friends were there. I knew about their attendance from their tweets, but also received additional “color” via the photos, videos, quotes, observations and shout-outs that they posted (on Twitter).

So even though I wasn’t anywhere near Sin City, checking the #imex12 hash tag during the day yielded the next best thing: feeling as if I were. I was able to see who was meeting up with whom, which organizations were there exhibiting and what the popular nightspots were.

Here are 10 ways Twitter helps “remote attendees” experience the sights and sounds of the on-site experience.

1) Take in the sights.

Images tell a story. It’s hard to imagine “following” an event on Twitter via words (text) alone. The images of attendees, exhibitors, speakers and the show floor give us a sense of the event’s character and personality. In addition, imagery adds to the feeling of “being there.”

2) Discover the key themes.

I don’t need an industry publication to tell me about the key themes of this year’s event, because it’s all right there in the tweet stream. Whether Twitter users share their own opinions or a quote from the keynote presentation, the tweet stream is the leading indicator of the event’s key topics.

3) Make new connections.

You’re sure to find interesting people at the event, by way of the tweets they’re sharing. You may choose to follow selected folks and they may decide to follow you back. In addition, by following the event’s hash tag and getting involved, you’re bound to pick up some followers by way of your interactions. I once attended a physical event and made new connections exclusively on Twitter. That’s right, we “met” on Twitter, but not face to face (it’s sad).

4) Gain nuggets of wisdom.

Miss out on a Sunday’s worth of NFL action? It’s OK, you can still watch the highlights that night. It’s similar with events: by reading the quotes shared on Twitter, you still get the nuggets of wisdom (from presenters) and get a feel for what particular sessions were all about.

5) Find exhibitors who provide solutions you may need.

For popular booths at physical shows, you may have to wait in line to speak to an exhibitor sales rep. Many of these same exhibitors are online (on Twitter), posting news and inviting on-site attendees to come visit their booth. If you’d like to obtain more information from an exhibitor, engage with them on Twitter – chances are they’ll respond back and get you connected to the right people.

6) Interact with onsite attendees by answering their questions.

Whether you’re 50 or 5,000 miles away, you can still be a valuable resource to the on-site attendees. How? By answering questions they might have. Provide a meaningful answer and you’ll likely pick up a few followers, too.

7) Learn about important industry news and announcements.

Whether it’s an award, an exhibitor product announcement or news of a new industry partnership, chances are you’ll hear about it on Twitter.

8) Watch live video from the show floor.

Without Twitter, I wouldn’t have known about the live video interviews that were being conducted from IMEX America’s show floor.

9) Listen to a show’s podcasts as well.

Meetings Podcast, hosted by Mike McAllen and Jon Trask, was the official podcaster for IMEX America ’12. And how did I know that a new episode was up on the site? On Twitter, of course!

10) Discover recaps of the show’s happenings.

A great complement to the “Twitter commentary” are blog summaries that can go beyond 140 characters. Here’s an example of a great daily recap published by Anne Thornley-Brown on the Cvent blog.

Conclusion

I thought I’d conclude this post in 140 characters (or less):

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .


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