Plan, be present and expect serendipity

This Wednesday I am off to Social Media Marketing World in San Diego. It’s my first time attending, and I’m pretty excited to learn lots and connect with industry leaders at this very large conference attracting guests and speakers from all over the world.

I have attended, and spoken at, many conferences over the years, and always found that preparation is key. It’s important to identify what you would like to get out of the conference, and then strategically go about building the plan to accomplish it. So far that has included identifying sessions to attend, and perhaps more importantly, people to connect with. The content is absolutely important, but it’s the connections that open doors and frankly make things happen.

And that got me thinking. What’s the best way to foster connection at a conference of social media people?

The obvious thing would be to connect on social media. And I think there’s huge value in doing that BEFORE the conference, to give a basis of connection in person. But to be incessantly on a mobile device and social media during the conference, perhaps misses the point of why I’ve chosen to be there in person.

The expectation of course is that there will be lots of activity online in various social channels. But is the best way to get value out of the conference to be constantly posting, tweeting, snapping, liking and sharing and putting the emphasis on broadcasting content beyond to an outside audience? Wouldn’t it be better to choose to connect on a personal level with those who are actually there? To basically be present in the moment, and save the distillation of content for an outside audience for a time later, with additional reflection and the added value of framing and referencing it for a particular audience?

With all that in mind, I thought I’d share with you some success tactics for attending conferences.

1. Connect with attendees before the conference. Use LinkedIn, a Facebook group, Twitter, Slack, or a conference APP and make a few notes on interesting people who have reached out to you, or you have contacted.  Research the speakers if you are not already familiar with their content and platforms. Check out their profile, business, website and social media presence. Use that information to strategically plan further conversations in person and meet ups.

2. Have a goal and filter.  It’s OK to be selfish. Have 1 or 2 primary goals for the conference and a secondary goal. Select sessions to attend based on that goal. In my case this year it is for speaking and writing opportunities, as well as connecting with prominent bloggers. Notice with these, while I’m attending for content, all my primary goals are based on making personal connections. That’s why I was particularly stealth in my lunch time meet up and dinner social selections – cruising for people I want to meet, but also knowing a table of people who have taken a later evening diner time selection will be way more fun then those going out earlier! I also of course look forward to learning the latest about Facebook ads, LinkedIn for business, live video, and new developments in Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.

3. Put the device away and be present. This might be a tough one at a social media conference, but I am determined to do it. I want to be in the moment and focus on the content and the conversation, make eye contact, and minimize distractions. There will be tons of time for social media later.

4. Be in the session. When you’re there, be there and share with others later, rather then tweeting during the event. I’m sure they will encourage live sharing of content, and there will be a race to get your tweets on the wall, but I don’t care. My goal is take in content and create and share from it to my audience over the coming months. I think it’s synthesizing for your particular audience later that makes content stand out. That can only be accomplished after reflection.

5. Expect serendipity. If you’re clear on your goal, cool stuff and amazing unexpected connections always happen. That’s the one thing I have learned over and over again at conferences. Luck doesn’t just happen. You plan, and then expect it.

I’d love to hear from you if you have other insights to share for conference success. Or if you have attended Social Media Marketing World in the past, what would be some of your best tips? #SMMW17

Mary Charleson


  1. HI Mary:

    Fabulous post! From someone who has been in the conference business for some time now as well as attending several conferences each year, I totally agree with the tactic to “put away the device and be present”.

    I believe that is something that more conferences should be leaning towards & encouraging their delegates – to be “present”. A person/company is spending a lot of valuable time & hard earned dollars for you to attend. Why bother if one spends their entire time on a mobile device – one might as well stay home!

    A conference attendee….
    1.) …is most definitely not being ‘present” in the moment when their eyes are focused down on their hands;
    2.) …cannot truly learn or absorb the information when the brain is ‘half on’ the session & ‘half on’ the device;
    3.) …is not making personal connections to those like-minded individuals that are all around them; and
    4.) …is sending a message to the presenter that my device is more important than your presentation!

    A few quick tweets here & there or a quick glance if you are expecting an important email/phone call is fine but then make an effort to put it back in your pocket or purse. It is so very easy to fall down into that rabbit hole when you give your device more attention than it deserves.

    Hope you all have a wonderful “in the moment” experience at your next event.

  2. Thanks for the comment Patricia. Coming from your industry experience in planning and hosting conferences, that’s a pretty big endorsement for the idea. With gratitude also for sharing out to your network!

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