How to Maximize Every Conference and Event You Attend (and Build Your Professional Brand)

As I get ready to attend and present at LMA Tech West this week and the 2018 conference season kicks off in full swing, I’ve been thinking about how I can maximize my time away from the office by turning these events into opportunities—not only learn and network—but also to build my professional brand.

Professional conferences and events are great opportunities to position yourself as a thought leader. Offering value-added, educational content to your peers during and after a conference is a strategic way to enhance your professional stature, which, in turn, can open other professional doors. You might be thinking, “how do I stand out as a thought leader if I haven’t been tapped to present at the conference?” The answer is you have the power to transform yourself from conference attendee to thought leader with clout by following some simple tips and taking time to prepare in advance.

Here are a few ways to help you put pen to paper (or finger to mobile device). Use one, or several or all – the choice and your level of engagement is entirely up to you.

  • Become the “Chief Reporter:” One of the best ways to build your brand and network is to give yourself the job of chief reporter at the conference. What do I mean by that? Reach out to speakers in advance and collect tips from their presentations as a way to help boost attendance to their session. Use your iPhone to do video interviews of speakers and industry leaders at the conference. Record podcast interviews with the same individuals. Capture tips on video from attendees and compile into a video or written piece. Visit exhibitor booths and ask them a question which you can then compile into a story. Survey attendees on their favorite takeaway/insight from the conference which you can again turn into a story. It’s all about being resourceful and creating newsworthy content.
  • Make It a Teachable Moment (For You & Your Audience): Don’t just be a stenographer and create a play-by-play of the event’s who, what, when, where and why. Anyone can do that and it doesn’t help to differentiate you. Instead, create content that focuses on the top takeaways/insights from the sessions that resonated the most with you. Write about how the topics at the conference impact you and your audience. I’ve had personal success with these types of articles, especially when I’m breaking down a conference into snackable, digestible takeaways. I will then self-publish the article on LinkedIn and share it with my connections. I have also often sent these articles to content hub JD Supra for consideration for publication as well as to the Legal Marketing Association. These are powerful content tools that are regularly seeking content contributions. Incorporate them into your personal marketing strategy.
  • Be Timely: It’s tempting to wait, but it’s usually better to draft the article as soon as possible so that the details and insights from the conference are top of mind. I always carry a notebook with me at a conference for note taking, and other times, when I live tweet at events, I will go back to the tweets I wrote and compile those into an article. Think of those tweets as a great first draft/outline to your longer story. At the end of the event I have a collection of tweets that sums up the event for me. In addition, I also search under the conference’s hashtag (which is easy to find on the conference materials or via a Twitter search) to incorporate some great insights from industry experts as well, giving them attribution, which helps to strengthen with relationship building and reciprocity. I try and write the article on the plane or train home when I am somewhat captive and focused.
  • Be Social: Speaking of live tweeting, make sure to tag the speakers from the sessions you are covering in your posts to foster relationship building and to give them shout outs. Even better, send them a LinkedIn request complimenting them on their session. Always remember that no one dislikes a compliment ever.
  • Be a Curator: Curating content is another way to easily produce content at a conference. Use a tool like Storify to curate the buzz. Storify is a free service that lets you create stories from social media posts. It is most commonly used to collect social media interactions around an event, but you can also use it to create your own story of a conference. Plus, you don’t even need to be at the event to do this if a conference hashtag is used consistently. 
  • Keep it Simple: Consider utilizing a “listicle” format. They are easy to digest and effectively summarize the main points of the event. Having numbers in your headline also is proven to draw in the reader. For example: “5 Great Ideas From (Insert Event)” or “Five Takeaways From (Insert Event)” or “10 Lessons I Learned From (Insert Event).” For example, lists with five or 10 items, tend to have higher readership rates than articles without them.

It actually works – here’s a real life example: One of the highest-read client alerts at one of my prior firms was a piece written by lawyer describing her views on top conference takeaways. Her article accomplished several important goals: she leveraged the firm's sponsorship commitment, while maximizing her time away from the office and billable work. On a personal level, instead of just being one of the 500 attendees at the conference, she positioned herself as a relevant, key contributor during and after the conference The piece was published as a client alert, and published on social media and the firm’s web site, increasing her brand recognition. She also took the extra step by sending the alert to a few key clients and prospects who she knew could not attend the conference. That strategic, proactive marketing helped to keep her top of mind with those individuals, demonstrating that she cared about the business issues they were facing. The best part of all of these efforts is that she was offered a speaking slot the following year at no cost. Could you do the same? Could your lawyers? Absolutely. 

One more word to the content wise: I always keep the “show versus tell” rule in mind with everything I write. Simply put, this is the concept of showing your audience how you are a subject matter expert versus telling them that you are. Be authentic, be unique and demonstrate what makes you stand out from the pack whenever you can. That's the true key for how to create compelling content of any kind. 

If you think of every professional activity – such as attending a conference or event – as a way to build your personal brand, you will more effectively maximize every opportunity you have to differentiate yourself. Do more than your peers and you will shine brighter. Taking the opportunity to do more with what you have is what separates the good from the great.  

About Stefanie: Stefanie Marrone helps law firms effectively tell their stories and find their unique voices. Over the last 15 years, she has been working with some of the most prominent law firms in the world, developing and executing global revenue generating, business development, internal and external communications strategies, including media relations, branding, content marketing and corporate journalism, and multi-channel content marketing and thought leadership campaigns. Learn more.

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