This year the convergence of conferences our clients are attending and our staff are supporting has grown to epic proportions.  Okay, maybe not epic, but given the snowy winter this year, these conferences could not have come at a better time to drag folks out of the doldrums.

Nearly all of our clients will be at one (or two) of the following: HIMSS (healthcare IT), Mobile World Congress (mobile technology), and RSA (identity and IT security). The scale of these conferences continues to amaze me with astonishing year-over-year growth in attendance and exhibitors.

Having attended over a dozen HIMSS, as well as a number of ATAs, ISTEs, CoSNs, CTIAs, and numerous other conferences, I have a number of tips for companies and individuals attending and exhibiting.

1. Go

These conferences are amazing for understanding industry trends, meeting colleagues and contacts, and generally staying connected.  It is a powerful validator to a prospect, reporter, or potential employer that you understand their industry and can speak intelligently about the trends and issues you discussed while at their industry’s pre-eminent event.

2. Build Relationships

The shared experiences and memories created at conferences are powerful connectors with your co-workers and your broader network.  Conferences take people out of their environment and allow for more meaningful engagement.  Be careful, you are still in a professional setting, but take advantage of being outside the office.

3. Have A Plan

These conferences are huge and overwhelming.  Know what you want to get out of them and have a plan to accomplish that.  For me, that means walking the floor, looking for that year’s driving themes, evaluating the messaging tactics of the industry segments my clients are in, attending a few relevant sessions, and knowing when I need a break.

4. Moderate Expectations

These conferences are small cities.  Everyone has their own agenda and you need to set the proper expectation for what you want to accomplish.  The #1 thing about these events is the ability to have a face-to-face meeting with normally geographically dispersed people.  EVERYONE knows this.

  • Sales people – They rule the roost.  They want to meet their clients and top prospects. Most of the floor is covered with sales people.
  • Marketers – They are coordinating the event, running the booth, ensuring networking functions go off without a hitch. You can identify these people as those who are frazzled and counting down the time until the conference end.
  • Press – Unless you are a MAJOR company, have an announcement with a MAJOR customer, and/or both, LOWER you expectations.  Most of the press who attend these events do so incognito.  They are there to see what is happening in the industry, write a few articles, and maybe do some interviews.  If you have news, an event is NOT the place to release it. With hundreds of vendors, there is just too much white noise to make an impact.  Try to reach out to a choice reporter or two ahead of time, maybe offer a demo or coffee.  Something informal.  Don’t release news. Media have told us first-hand that to drive the greatest impact, release news in the weeks prior to an event and then offer discussion at these shows.

5. Follow-Up

Business cards are passed, relationships made.  You have two options after a conference, 1) go back to your normal job or 2) keep the connections alive.  The long tail of a conference can be powerful, but I often see it go to waste.  Professional relationships take time; follow-up with folks you spent time with on the floor and at dinner.

For those going to HIMSS, I look forward to seeing you there.  If you are attending RSA, feel free to contact John Raffetto. For those going to Mobile World Congress, I am plain jealous of you getting to go to a conference in Barcelona!

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Have any tips for getting the most out of attending or exhibiting at conferences? Leave a comment below, or tweet us at @RHStrategic with the hashtag #RHetoricBlog. We’d love to hear from fellow PR professionals and journalists alike.

RH Strategic is the PR firm for a hyper-connected world, delivering integrated media, social & digital strategies for technology, healthcare, and public sector markets.