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Marketing events are a fact of IT channel life. If you track Facebook profiles, they may seem to be a chronicle of some people’s entire lives. It makes you wonder how those people are getting so much value out of so many events, especially if you haven’t experienced that success lately yourself.

You may be wondering why we’re covering both the events you attend and the events you produce for your customers. The answer is simple. The steps we suggest you take to prepare to attend an event are the same ones your customers should take when planning to attend yours.

It’s worthwhile to remember that your ultimate goal in attending or producing a marketing event is the same—to find and win more business for yourself and your company. Here are steps for making the most of a marketing event or conference.

Step 1: Build your business case for attending.

You may be thinking that you only need to do this if you have to convince your management to invest in sending you to the event you plan to attend.  In reality, the business case for attending forms the foundation of everything else you’re going to do to maximize your return.

Remember, the cost of travel and lodging and the event fee are not the only investments. Your time is also being invested in going, and that may be the biggest investment of all. Building your business case will help you identify how you will obtain a return from all that investment and how you will know what success looks like in attending.

Step 2: Build your plan—goals first.

Start by writing out what your goals are for attending the event. List at least five things you must accomplish for this to be a successful event for you and your company. How will you achieve a return on the investments. What will success look like?  Write it all out.  Review it with your manager and earn his or her respect and appreciation. 

Hint: Do not include your anticipated golf score.

Step 3: Identify who and what you will spend your time on at this event.

Just about the saddest things you see at every marketing event you attend are the wallflowers—people who stand by themselves pretending to look for someone as they nurse a beverage and do basically nothing. Clearly, they had no plan regarding who they wanted to meet, and they lack the interpersonal skills to simply introduce themselves to people. It’s never been clear why companies send these people to suffer at marketing events, but they’re always there. Don’t be one of them.

Schedule as many meetings in advance as you can. Don’t depend on any automated meeting-maker systems the show host may provide. If it’s not in someone’s own personal calendar, your likelihood of them keeping the meeting is really close to zero, unless they really want something from you, which is not why you’re there, right?

Step 4: Aggressively analyze the agenda.

There may very well be some program sessions you want to attend.  More often this is because there will be people there on your “must meet” list. All too often, the sessions are simply pitches for you to sign up for or buy something. And that’s not why you’re there.

Look for sessions that promise to teach you how to do something more effectively, preferably with no relationship to any product or particular company.

Attend the sessions that your “must meets” may attend. For any time-slots where there are no sessions of value to you, plan something else. Have something proactive planned for every time slot with no exceptions.

Step 5: Meals

If possible, make an appointment to meet someone valuable for each and every meal. This is your free opportunity to share a meal with someone. Preferably, it should be someone who really has the potential to drive more business for you, and you for them. Remember, the more good you do for more people, the more good finds its way back around to you. Seek value and be valuable.

Nobody wants to fund a boondoggle, but most executives appreciate the need to relax and seek some enjoyment while you’re away from the office. Enjoy the parties, but do try to use them as excellent opportunities to make new contacts. It is definitely possible to do both at the same time. Remember, if you’re not interacting with someone at an event, you’re not working.