When I first started blogging, I didn't go to conferences because I had a full-time job. After I quit to blog full-time, I started going to all kinds of conferences. I went to massive internet marketing conferences like Pubcon and Affiliate Summit, I went to smaller fintech conferences like Finovate, and I even went to a few smaller, higher-end events like Elite Retreat and Think Tank.
Now, as a father to three kids, I don't go to many conferences.
In fact, I only go to one – FinCon / Success Incubator. (they're two conferences during the same week, in the same place, losely partnered together)
FinCon was started ages ago by one of my good blogging friends, PT from PTMoney, and it's the only one I make sure I go to each year.
And when I go, I make sure to make the most of it.
Whether you're attending it for the first time or the fifth, whether it's that conference or another, here are my suggestions for how to make the most of conferences. This is not a massive list of ideas you've seen before, like drink water and bring lozenges, they're ideas that are so important I wanted to write them down so I remind myself what I should be doing when I go again this year.
1. A Conference is a Networking Magnet
I don't go to a conference for the sessions, the speakers, the exhibitors, the parties, or the meals – I go because they are magnets for the people I want to hang out with. I go because of the other attendees.
FinCon is no different.
Your goal at a conference is to meet as many people as you can so you can put a face to a name and so they can put your face to a name. This is especially important if the majority of your avatars are a blue background or a chess piece.
This will be the only place and the only time in the world where saying “I'm a personal finance blogger” doesn't result in weird looks.
Join the FinCon Faceboook Group because you'll be able to meet a lot of people before the conference.
2. Make ONE Geniune Connection
Conferences come in one of two varieties – massive or small. Small is like fewer than 200 attendees. Massive is like hundreds to thousands of attendees. Fincon is a massive conference.
You will not meet everyone.
Your goal should be to make one genuine, long-lasting connection with one person you hadn't met in person beforehand. This could be someone you've chatted with online. This could be someone you didn't even know existed before meeting them at the conference. The key is to make just one connection like this because it will change your life.
You can make two, three, ten – the point isn't to limit yourself – but your goal should be just one.
A genuine connection isn't one where you immediately hand out business cards. It should be like a speed date. You say hi, you exchange pleasantries, then you talk about what you do, then you shift to personal things like family, where you're from, yadda yadda yadda. Build a connection.
Get to know them but don't be clingy. It's a delicate dance. 🙂
If you want one tactical networking tip on how to make these interactions more positive, ask more questions than you answer. The more you ask, the more you learn and the more positively the other person will perceive the interaction. It's a double win for all you weirdo quants out there. Here are 47 other networking tips, meant for graduating students but applicable to everyone. 🙂
Finally, if you want a bigger goal – try to meet with people you'd want in a mastermind group. Don't invite them then and there, but try to build a roster in your head and reach out to them after the conference when you follow up.
3. Attend the “Other” Events
FinCon is more than the conference. There are all kinds of different events going on from the community service to pickup basketball.
Those are great opportunities to meet new people while doing something else and in a much smaller setting.
There are people that I'm better friends now because we played basketball that day. (Coach!)
There are also “pre-conferences” like Success Incubator, CardCon, and others. They're smaller, more intimate, and an opportunity to meet new folks without the crush of a massive conference. They're not inexpensive but it's all one trip, you might as well maximize it.
4. Don't Be Intimidated by Anyone
If someone isn't talking to anyone or in the middle of something, walk up and say hello. It's OK if you don't know them. It's OK if they're a Big Deal and you have no idea who they are, just say hellow.
It may feel like there are people who are “famous.” But no one is actually famous. Everyone is a person.
Last year, I met Darren Rowse of Problogger. If you were to pick out the OG of blogging, it's Darren. Over ten years ago, his site opened my eyes to how a blog could be a business (I even found a comment I left in 2006). If there was anyone who is more internet famous for longer, I don't know who that could be.
But he's a regular guy, very friendly, and totally cool.
5. Emphasize Meeting with “Your Level” of Experience
If you are a relative newbie to blogging, you should try to meet your internet heroes but make a far more concentrated effort to connect with folks at your level of expertise.
This isn't because you're a new blogger and not worth the superstar's time – that's definitely not the case and no one at FinCon will make you feel that way.
The point of this is that it'll be far more valuable for you to focus on those connections. There are plenty of big-time bloggers who are very approachable, very helpful, and you should not be intimidated to say hello and introduce yourself.
BUT… they haven't dealt with new blogger issues in quite some time and they won't be as useful a resource/sounding board in the future. They will be able to give you their high level thoughts but it's folks who are in those same trenches right now that will be the most helpful. They will also not be swamped with people so you can reach out them more easily after the conference. Those are the folks you need in your mastermind group because they will be fighting the same battles right beside you.
More importantly, you'll be able to reciprocate with those at your level with what you learn. One of my most valuable relationships, personally and financially, was with Five Cent Nickel. We could talk on instant messenger all the time about what we were trying, what worked, and what didn't. It was a symbiotic relationship that elevated both of our businesses and it was possible because we were fighting the same battles.
6. Punt Cold Business Networking Meetings
There will be a lot of companies at FinCon and many of them will want to meet with you. It can feel flattering, especially if they offer to buy you a meal or a cup of coffee.
Avoid the ones where you do not have an existing relationship (cold). That can be done with a phone call after the conference.
When you schedule too many meetings at a conference, you artificially interrupt organic conversations and chance meetings.
Let's say you randomly sat down for lunch and got into a really good conversation… then you realize you have a 1 PM meeting with a random company you've never heard of. If you didn't have that meeting, would you just get up and leave? No. You'd sit there and see where it went.
Meetings must have a purpose and that purpose can't be to “meet for the first time,” unless it's another attendee. Companies can call you on the phone and meet you then.
If you have an existing relationship, say you're an affiliate or they're syndicating your articles, then a meeting makes more sense. That's a relationship you want to foster.
Meals should be reserved for those relationships you value. You only have two meals a day and you will be captive during that time. You don't want to say yes to a company just to find out it's just a 2 hour pitch. 🙂
7. Take Breaks, Refuel
You know yourself – take breaks.
This can mean going to your room to take a nap, catch some quiet time, or it can mean going to a quieter area and having some one-on-one low-key conversations.
If you go for the whole time, Thursday to Sunday, that's a lot of “on” time. If you're an introvert like me, that's exhausting. Even if your an extrovert and meeting people energizes you, the long nights and early mornings will catch up to you.
Take breaks, stay hydrated, try to eat well, and maximize the quality of your up time. It's OK to take naps!
8. Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up
I've met a lot of people at FinCons and the ones I remember have always followed up somehow. I try my hardest to follow up too and it's resulted in some fantastic relationships.
It is really really hard to follow up by email. How many emails do you get each day? Probably a billion or two. So many emails don't get read because there are too many emails.
If you can, follow up in some other way. Go where there isn't a ton of activity.
(just don't call on the phone or stalk them!)
How many comments does their blog have? How many people tune into their Facebook Live videos? How many people tweet at them?
Chances are it's fewer than the number who email them… and those channels, by default, will attach your face/avatar to the message making you even more recognizable.
So follow up and consider doing so in a way that has way less competition.
9. Buy Drinks
If there's someone you want to meet, say hello and buy them a drink.
If they're wearing a FinCon Staff or Volunteer shirt, buy them a drink.
If they're PT, buy them a drink. 🙂
If you enjoyed this post, share it. And buy me a drink. (just kidding, you don't have to, a hello is fine… save that money for PT and his team for putting on an awesome event year after year)
… and if you want to tie this to some kind of tactic, there's the idea of reciprocity – people will feel a compelling need to “pay you back” for the drink. I won't feel compelled but some people will. 🙂
10. Have Fun
FinCon is one of the most fun times you'll have at any kind of conference.
Try to get out of your comfort zone and enjoy the only place where there isn't a single person who will look at you sideways when you say you have a blog so take advantage of it.
I hope this helps!