As we think about business development and marketing plans for the upcoming year, it is time to reconsider your strategy for attendance at and involvement in professional conferences and in-person industry events. Although attending conferences has long been a preferred method for business and professional development for people in almost every industry and practice, individual preferences and expectations have shifted substantially since 2020. Some attorneys are finding that the events they used to attend are no longer yielding the results they once did. Professionals who attended information-intensive conferences in hopes of engaging with current and prospective clients are finding that it might now be mainly their competitors and industry vendors in attendance at these same conferences. Many prospective clients are now finding information through other more flexible and less time- and energy-consuming platforms such as webinars, Zoom meetings, video recordings, articles, podcasts, and one-on-one conversations.
But conference organizers recognize that people will continue to attend events if their attendance creates benefits that cannot be achieved through some other less costly and time-intensive method. Growing our networks strategically and building professional relationships, friendships, and mentorships with people we can collaborate and work with are vital components to career development and professional fulfillment. Today there are fewer opportunities for serendipitous, professional, in-person connection and collaboration than ever before, so being intentional and proactive about investing your time and energy in in-person events could prove invaluable to your professional success.
Benefits of attending in-person conferences
Attending conferences that are specific to your practice and are of interest to your target connections can provide a multitude of benefits. Conferences provide an opportunity to reconnect with your existing contacts and meet new people. You can hear industry updates and new perspectives in your field, and CLE is often provided. And stepping away from your day-to-day work to collaborate and learn from industry experts can be inspiring and can generate renewed focus in your work. Lastly, and importantly, conferences should be fun.
Deciding which conferences to attend
Because professional goals shift, the first consideration when approaching any business development initiative is to clarify the kind of work you want more of, who your ideal client is, and who your best referral sources are. With that in mind, busy professionals should choose to attend conferences that meet both of the following criteria:
- The attendees are people who can further your career and there will be opportunities to connect
- The topics discussed are relevant to your ideal client and your ideal practice
Once you decide that you want to attend a conference, determine what the goal of your attendance is. Is it to raise your visibility, connect with a specific person or type of professional, reconnect with your colleagues? Decide on your desired outcomes, and focus your actions to help you reach that goal.
Getting the most out of your attendance
Before the conference or event
Reach out to your best contacts individually to find out if they will be attending and make a plan to reconnect one-on-one. Even if those contacts are not attending, use the opportunity to schedule time to catch up after the conference; you can run through some of the conference highlights with them.
Update your LinkedIn profile, ensuring it represents you and your practice accurately. You should be using LinkedIn to connect and stay connected with the people you meet at the conference, so be sure your headshot looks like you. These new connections should be able to tell from a brief glance at your profile exactly what you do and for whom. It’s also useful to post on LinkedIn letting your network know you will be in attendance and asking your connections to reach out if they are also planning to attend.
Request the list of registered attendees. Reach out to those you know and those you would like to connect with, letting them know you look forward to seeing them at the conference and asking to schedule one-on-one time to chat. Identify presenters you would like to meet, too. Connect with them on LinkedIn, and include a note letting them know you are looking forward to hearing their presentation.
Consider hosting drinks or a meal with those you know will be in attendance. If appropriate, encourage them to invite their friends or colleagues also present to join. People will appreciate the opportunity to connect and meet new people in a casual setting.
Help out. If you are involved with the host organization, explore the volunteer opportunities available during the conference. This is especially helpful if you don’t know many people in attendance because you will likely meet people when volunteering.
Consider speaking at the event. Being on stage is a fantastic way to boost your credibility and visibility. You typically need to submit a proposal to speak well in advance of the event, so make sure to research and calendar submission deadlines. You can read more about speaking at an event in the previous article in the Attorney Career Advancement series.
Think about what you are going to say when new connections ask you what you do. Keep it short and simple, but specific. For example, an informative but concise response might look something like this: “I am an employment litigator. Lately I have represented tech companies with employee issues arising out of remote work.”
Think about what you will say when existing contacts ask how things are going. It’s helpful to write down three recent issues or matters that represent the type of work you want more of, briefly highlighting the client and their issue, how you are helping them solve that issue, and what it ultimately meant to the client.
Order updated business cards if you don’t have them—and don’t forget to bring them with you.
During the conference or event
Attend as much as you can. Networking breakfasts, keynotes, breakouts, lunches, cocktail hours—some conferences even host physical activities like an early morning run or yoga session. You invested your time and the monetary expense of attending, so make sure you are really showing up.
Actively participate in the sessions, ask thoughtful questions, and provide useful commentary.
Introduce yourself and make introductions. Most people are very uncomfortable in these situations, so they will be relieved if you break the ice and take the lead.
Take good notes in the sessions you find valuable. Write down three key takeaways after each session.
Stay after the session to connect with the speaker to ask a question, grab their card, and let them know you enjoyed the session.
Take photos and post them on LinkedIn. Tag the speakers and colleagues in the photos, and comment on what you are learning or experiencing that you find valuable.
After the conference or event
Send connection requests on LinkedIn to everyone you met with a brief note reminding them where you met.
Send short, individual emails to the people you met or reconnected with that include a reason for them to respond (offer to make an introduction, send an article, collaborate on a presentation, etc.) Be intentional about staying in touch.
Consider writing a summary of key learnings to share with your colleagues. You may want to take this further and publish your conference highlights on your firm’s blog and on social media as well, emailing it directly to contacts who weren’t able to attend.
There is something about people physically being together that can’t be replaced with technology. Leveraging technology, forethought, and effort will ensure you get the most out of your professional in-person interactions.