In my today’s post I am going to practice what I preach. With IMEX America I am attending in 2 weeks, I thought I would use this occasion to illustrate my tips on how to get prepared for the event. Attending events as large and intense as IMEX can feel both exciting and overwhelming, and it definitely pays off spending some time to structure your thoughts and plans for the actual experience to be more productive and relaxed. Here is a checklist of what to do before the event; read more to see my accompanying notes and examples.
IMEX is one of the must-attend events for event professionals, with lots of opportunities one does not want to miss once there. So here is what you can do to prepare yourself for making these 3 days as effective as possible.
Define your goal(s)
As always, defining goals is the first step. Everything else would solely depend on what you are aiming to achieve. Also, remember the goals should be relevant, specific, quantifiable, and achievable. When thinking about your goals, I always advise to try and go from broad, strategic aims to more detailed and ‘operational’ kind of objectives. That way you’d be able to also prioritize and see what tasks you’d like to focus on more. My goals for IMEX are:
IMEX is a major meeting up point of the year, and I’d like to use this opportunity to the fullest, to reconnect with old colleagues and meet new ones. I aim to schedule min 5 appointments prior to the show, and also leave room for more casual catch-ups.
- Constant Learning
I strongly believe in the idea of constant learning: no matter how much expertise I have gained by so far, I am always on the lookout for different perspectives and ways to improve what I do. IMEX offers lots of education – and therefore it’s not an easy task to choose. My key advice here would be this: keep focusing on what you’d like to achieve to pick up the tracks which would be just right for you and support your overarching aims.
- Business development
This goal is kind of naturally falls within both above. Yet, I still would like to set it aside from others as there are actions to take which would refer to my business in particular.
Create a to-do list
Now, when you have clearly defined your goals, create a list of steps that would reflect what you’re aiming for.
Why do you need it? Apparently, this (or any other) event is not the only thing you have in mind or activity scheduled in your diary. Creating a to-do list specifically for the event takes a load off your mind: once done, you just follow it when time comes and can be rest assured that you’re coming for the event as prepared as possible.
So, some of the to-do’s in my list generated from my goals, are:
- select sessions that falls into my range of interests (e.g. strategic event design; all things emotions in events; attendee engagement etc). You may want to go for a couple of selection rounds like I did. First, I selected all sessions I found interesting then refined it based on my needs as well as start/end times and any overlaps with other activities I plan.
- browse through my list of contacts to see who I’d like to reconnect with;
- share I am attending IMEX and call for my network to catch up
- finalise Matey Events new look with my designer (yay it’s coming!) so that I could get my brand new business cards ready in time.
Start networking before the event
This is important indeed. I keep saying that nowadays an event is stretched out in time. We can feel its impact long after the day X passed; likewise, one needs to act early, long before the day X, in order to have a productive on-site experience. That is especially true when it comes to networking. Naturally, we schedule appointments and start conversations. What I would like to stress here, is that networking should be structured and strategic, too.
- filter out your contacts. Be guided by your goals and see who you really would like to meet with. Numbers truly doesn’t matter here – quality and results do;
- reach out in advance. You don’t want to end up having random meetings based on how lucky you are to meet particular people. Ask for introduction or reach out yourself and see if there is a possibility to meet in person;
- find an event buddy. For some people (me included) it’s more comfortable having a colleague/friend by their side even if they have attended the event before. Having a company of each other can be a relaxing thing in case you have a quick question to ask, a thought to share or fun activity to do together. Just be aware this should not hinder you from meeting new people.
- be ready for the conversation. Think ahead about conversations you’re going to have at the event. What burning questions do you have? What is your story? etc.
Dive into pre-event communications
These are news and stories generated by the organisers and prospective attendees. Social media is a huge help here, of course (I prefer Twitter and LinkedIn; in my experience, they work best for events/meetings). Email/newsletters work well, too. It might be a tiny action like monitoring event’s hashtag which actually brings a lot of useful information and helps to clarify some actions.
For example, with #IMEX and #IMEX18 I found some extra/fun opportunities that are not on the official schedule, and also discovered some more companies whose booths I’m going to visit.
Post your own stories, questions or thoughts – it can help you clarify your thoughts on specific topic and make ‘mere exposure effect’ work for you; it can also help others, both prospective attendees and even non-attendees, to discuss issues related to event’s content or logistics.
Create your own agenda
Your goals for attending are unique as are your needs and patterns. I believe it makes perfect sense to create your own agenda and follow it; surely there might be changes along the way, but creating it beforehand helps clarifying your mind and also serves as a handy tool to include/exclude any extra activities on the go. Also, it helps waive things that are valuable/significant just for you, into the official schedule. Your pace is unique, so take care of yourself during the event (which might be hectic and emotionally and physically exhausting) by creating your version of the program which would take into account your preferences and priorities. No matter if that is an appointment, a meal you prefer at specific times or a break to check up on your loved ones – put down everything that seems important to you; nobody else is going to see that. Creating your personal schedule does not take longer than an hour, but it can give you a sense of familiarity and structure which would pay off when you’re gone with the event waves.
So what would the personal agenda include? Mine looks like this [still work in progress] and has
- IMEX sessions (which I selected in 2 rounds)
- networking points
- space for attending trade show floor/live zone
Plan your actions post-event
What is the major change (or changes) you expect to happen after attending the event? Can it be broken down into a few specific steps you need to take after the event is over? Some steps can be put down now, some will emerge when you’re at the show, but just keep it in mind.
For example, one of the particular actions I am actually planning now is another post with a review of my onsite experience and outcomes of my visit to IMEX. Another example of the action would be a follow up – I actually schedule time in my calendar to do that. We all have lots of things to catch-up with when coming back from the event, and by setting some time aside to follow up one can make sure this important task is never downgraded.
What would you need to do when you’re back?
A final note.
As much as I love structure and planning, I believe it is very important to be flexible in order to enjoy the event experience. It might be that it won’t go in accordance with your plans or something would be not quite up to your expectations. The key thing is to enjoy whatever good you are going to have, and remember that the main magic happens when you take actions and change whatever should be changed, as a result of attending. Happy IMEX everyone!