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Top 10 Strategies to Generate Referrals from a Conference or Trade Show

As I write this blog, I am preparing to attend Podfest Multimedia Expo for the fourth straight year, and I’m speaking at the event for the third straight year.  I find that trade shows, expos, and industry events are great tools to generate buzz about my business (or podcast), gain some credibility as an industry leader, and generate referrals. The way I do that is by having a set plan before attending the event and I thought, while a deviation from a post you would expect to read on a lawfirm’s blog, the information is still valuable.

  1. Goals

Obviously, I attend the event with two or three goals in mind. With goals, I make sure to set, strategize and share.  What do I mean by this?  When setting goals, consistent with what nearly every business coach will tell you, I have SMART Goals – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time Driven.

I then use my goals to strategize: are the specific attendees I want to meet, specific speakers I want to hear or meet, or certain breakout sessions I want to attend? Do I want to meet people over breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks, between sessions? Are there attendees I share some commonality with, for example I host a morning Run Club at Podfest – meaning I invite a bunch of people to run a morning 5k with me one morning of the expo. That is a great way to connect with others in a low-stress, non-sales environment and it instantly gives us some connection that, ultimately, helps me one step closer to my goals.

Some other methods for strategizing: I recommend that you participate in the event.  This doesn’t always mean you have to speak.  Maybe you can volunteer – the host / organizer will be more apt to help you if you volunteer to help them. If you’re unable to formally volunteer, you can unofficially volunteer by positioning yourself as a connector. If you ask people who they want to meet, eventually, you’ll find that Joe wants to meet profession “x” and a little later will find that Sally is someone who is in profession “x.” I also hang out at or near the registration table at the beginning of the event.  You never know who will have questions that you can answer (to position yourself as a connector, and to take the pressure off of the registration people, who have enough to do, especially at bigger events). You can also see who is attending that you may want to meet and whether they’ve arrived yet.  Plus, the people at the registration booth can help you too with introductions. Along those lines, ask for help! I find that it is true that your question is likely shared by someone else. Finally, seek to schedule meetings from the meeting.  Maybe you’re having a great conversation between sessions.  Do you stop the conversation to attend the next session? If so, then set up a lunch or dinner appointment, or schedule time to meet, talk by phone or video chat the week after the event is over.

I also share my goals. You have to be respectful to the event, so avoid verbal spamming of your goal to everyone. However, one way to share your goal is to ask the person you’re speaking with what their goal is, in the hopes they mirror that question back to you.  Of course, you need to be ready with your goal, and phrase it in such a way that they can help you achieve it. For example, if your goal is to be a guest on ten shows, and you say that to the person you’re speaking with, they may not know ten podcasters looking for guests. However if you tell ten different people over the course of the event that you want to be a guest on one show, you have a better chance of achieving your goal.

  1. Bring Your Tools

What information do you need to bring with you to properly network the event?  For me, I make sure to have the following:

  1. Business Cards – and I then sort them into (i) who do I want to follow up with solely as a Social Media Connection, (ii) who do I want to follow up with using a note, (iii) who do I want to follow up with for a future meeting, and (iv) who do I want to follow up with on the spot.
  2. SWAG – shirts, koozies, stickers, cups, note pads, etc. What swag do you have for your show?
  3. Name Tag – does the event provide one and/or do you have one of your own? Beware, if the event gives you a lanyard you want to make sure you adjust the lanyard so that your name badge is hanging around mid-chest (or maybe higher if you’re a woman). In any event, avoid people having to look at your belly-button to see your name on your name badge.
  4. Layout of the Event – do you know where the bathrooms are located, where the vendors are located, and where the various conference or breakout rooms are located?
  5. Event Vendor List (treasure map) – some conferences provide prizes for visiting all of the vendors.
  6. Pen – does the venue provide one? Do you have one (see SWAG above)? Does it work?
  7. Calendar – to use to follow up with people that you talk to at the event, either to schedule a future meeting, and to schedule time in your calendar to debrief after the event is over.
  8. Extra battery / charging cord – either for your own use, or to be the hero for someone who has electronics that are at low battery levels.
  9. Notebook – or laptop / tablet to use to take notes, view conference materials, etc.
  10. Glasses to see (if necessary) and sunglasses in the event you’re networking outside.
  1. Never Eat Alone

This is the title of a book by Keith Ferrazzi and, while I’ve never read the book, I understand the basic concept of it, which is to schedule meetings during breakfast, lunch and dinner with someone that you haven’t met before the event.  Or, you could schedule a meal with someone you know but haven’t caught up with in a while.  The point is that everyone has to eat, so why not use the meal to network?

  1. Party after the Party

Sometimes, the best networking is done socially at formal or informal events after-hours.  While typically alcohol is involved, I am not promoting drinking or suggesting that drinking is required. Some of the best connections I’ve made and an easy way to let your guard down has been at the bar, after-hours, after the formal events of the conference have finished for the day. Of course, be responsible, and be respectful to the event.

  1. Conference App

Many conferences have turned to an online app to promote engagement. In addition, many conferences promote on social media for months before the event. Engage on social media by posting comments, starting conversations, posting pictures, and sharing posts to promote the event. The more you engage online, the better people will know you even before the event starts. I recall one event I attended for the first time ever. I spent months posting content online, talking about my excitement to attend the event, and sharing the event in an effort to get more of my network to register to attend with me. When I finally made it to the event live, people were approaching me to say hello as if we were long-lost friends, because of my previous engagement on social media.

  1. Network with Friends (tag-team networking)

If you are able to attend with someone you know, you should meet before-hand to come up with a plan to promote each other. Some people (like me) are introverted, so having a few “friendly networking faces” will increase your comfort level.

One technique I learned through BNI (networking group) and Asentiv (networking training company), is called “tag-team networking.” The concept is that it is easier for someone else to promote you than for you to promote yourself. Plus, it is easier for someone to believe a testimonial about you given by someone else, than a testimonial you give about yourself. Finally, it is easier to help remember people’s names, especially if you forget their name between the first and second time you meet is to network with a friend.

The way it works is that you learn your partner’s introduction and they learn yours.  Then, when you meet someone at the event you partner says “Hi, Joe! Do you know my friend Shawn Yesner. He is consumer protection attorney and recently helped one of his clients save $40,000 by settling a second mortgage!” (True story). After Joe’s jaw gets picked up off the floor, you say “Thanks Mary. Joe, my friend Mary Smith likes to introduce me with that story, but did you know that Mary …” In this way, you’re not self-promoting or verbal spamming. You are introducing your partner and she you to a new potential contact with a powerful testimonial. Plus, it will help both of you practice, say and learn other’s names.

  1. Visit Vendors

While the vendors are there to sell, they are also there to show off the latest in whatever technology they are promoting at the event. The vendors understand that not everyone is ready to buy from them at the event, some will buy later and some will never buy. However, most vendors have: (a) give-aways (a cheap way to bring home gifts for the kids, or pick up a new gym shirt), (b) useful information to provide, (c) something to sell, (d) things they want to learn by their attendance, and (e) other goals for the event. Sometimes, you can get a great deal, or a give-away, or a free piece of advice, or another benefit by speaking with the vendor. Most vendors will also help connect you to other attendees at the event.

My first year at Podfest, I talked to the guys at the Libsyn table.  Because Libsyn currently hosts The Crushing Debt PodcastTM, they allow me to put my business cards on the table at their booth. When Podfest was over, they packed up their booth (including my cards) and brought them to the next show. At that next show, another lawyer-podcaster saw my card and picked it up, which led to a swap of interviews (me on his show and him on mine).  This other attorney practices in a different area of law and, aside of swapping interviews, we have been referral partners and resources to each other. Speaking to the folks at Libsyn eventually led to growing my show and law firm!

  1. Incorporate hobbies

Do you participate in a hobby that you can incorporate into the tradeshow to help build your visibility or credibility, or that you can use to connect to other attendees?

I’ve created blogs and podcast episodes about the fact that I run a 5K twice per week (most weeks), and run about ten 5k races per year. A few years ago at Podfest, I asked the host if I could start an informal run club. I mapped out a 3 mile course surrounding the hotel, posted it online and on social media.  That first run club has nearly twelve runners. All of them got one of my SWAG t-shirts, and wore it on the run or during Podfest. Not only did I increase my visibility and connect with them, I also had other people noticing my shirts during the event, who later got one and wore it. That first run club started to spread the podcast by word of mouth throughout the Country and the world! Also, that first year, I was also asked to introduce one of my fellow runners when she presented – my first, all be it short, speaking engagement at Podfest! I remain friends with many of those runners and as I attend future years, they are some of the first people I reconnect with, making all the more comfortable right at the start of the event. What hobbies can you incorporate into your conference attendance?

  1. Schedule a Meeting from the Meeting

Earlier in this post, I described your goal of scheduling a meeting from the meeting. Certainly, if you connect with someone in the hallway and are having a great conversation, you should continue that conversation, even at the expense of missing a breakout session. While you’ll get great education from the breakout, you’re more likely to get value out of the connection. But if you REALLY need to see the presentation, ask your partner if you can catch up later in the day, during a meal (never eat alone), at the bar (party after the party), the next week in person (if you’re in the same city) via video call or phone (if you’re not).  Just because you don’t accomplish your goal at the event, you can still accomplish some of your goals by your follow up after the event.

Plus, in the week after the event, you’re still on an “event high” which is the perfect time to catch up your friends from the event.

  1. Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

Ultimately, in order to grow and accomplish your goals you need to break out of your comfort zone. How do you do that? Simple – do things you’ve never done before.

For example, I recently attended a bankruptcy legal education seminar. Typically at an attorney legal education seminar, most of the networking happens after hours (the party after the party). However, I had a goal to capture short interviews with some of my peers to string together and create a podcast episode. Doing so required that I approached attorneys that I knew, and approach attorneys I didn’t know to ask them for interviews. It required that I prepared questions ahead of time, and have my portable podcasting equipment with me to capture the interview when someone said yes. It also required me to break out of my comfort zone and speak to people that I would not have otherwise approached because of my introverted nature. I was happy with the results. I picked up four interviews, and received great feedback on the show. I also received a commitment for a future interview with the Executive Director of the organization that hosted the seminar! My point – break out of your comfort zone, the worst results are not as bad as you think and the upside is fantastic!

BONUS Strategy

I guess I could have called this Eleven strategies, but I’ve always been a fan of bonus content and material.

For some conferences, the organizers open up applications to speak at the event. If you speak regularly as a means to grow your business, or if you’re looking for some way to break out of your comfort zone, then applying to speak is a great way to do that! Being a speaker at an event instantly increases your credibility. However, being unprepared to speak equally decreases your credibility. Before you prepare your presentation, focus again on your conference goals.

How can you use your time speaking to share or accomplish your goals? Avoid blatant self-promotion as that decreases your credibility. One of my goals at Podfest is to increase my subscribers, and I am speaking. While much of the audience will know how to subscribe to the show, I have a more subtle request. During the presentation (which is about intellectual property and podcasting) I make a joke about giving the audience permission to post a picture of me on their social media account(s), with various hashtags that support and promote Podfest, me and The Crushing Debt PodcastTM. My hope is that getting the audience to post about me on social media, some of their followers will discover and subscribe to my podcast – a subtle reference to ask for help to support one of my goals.

What other tips, techniques or strategies do you employ to generate referrals at a conference or trade show? My goal is to eventually turn this blog into a podcast episode and I could use your additional input.

For more information on generate more referrals, or maximize your conference / trade show appearance, please contact us to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your options at 813-774-5737 or email me directly at shawn@yesnerlaw.com. Please also subscribe to the Crushing Debt PodcastTM on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other podcast players, including Amazon Echo (“Alexa”) for more free information about these topics. It is free to subscribe to the show on your podcast player, so you don’t miss each new episode as it is released every Thursday.

Shawn M. Yesner, Esq., is the host of the Crushing Debt PodcastTM, author of Crushing Debt: 9 Strategies to Avoid Financial Bullies (available on Amazon.com) and founder of Yesner Law, P.L., a Tampa Bay based consumer law firm that helps clients eliminate the financial bullies in their lives. We assist clients with asset protection, the sale and purchase of real property, Chapter 7 liquidation, Chapter 13 reorganization, bankruptcy, foreclosure defense, debt settlement, landlord/tenant issues, short sales, and loan modifications in Tampa, Westchase, Citrus Park, Odessa, Oldsmar, Palm Harbor, Clearwater, Countryside, Pinellas Park, Largo, St. Petersburg, and throughout the greater Tampa Bay Area.

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