Aaron Orendorff is a content strategist, copywriter, and blogger. He is a regular contributor at Mashable, Fast Company, Business Insider, Content Marketing Institute and more. He is the founder of iconiContent. He is also a networker-extraordinaire, and has provided the #CMWorld community with regular advice and fun ideas, and is always willing to share his learnings.
Obscurity is painful.
Online, it can mean the difference between success and failure. Offline — in real life — it’s even worse. Especially when it comes to conferences.
Nobody wants to spend thousands of dollars on tickets and travel expenses, not to mention take time away from their work and family, only to come home with a notebook full of tips.
There’s power in accumulating knowledge, but the real magic of conferences is in the people. Not just new friends, but new professional connections, new opportunities to collaborate, and new business.
And yet new people, if you’re anything like me, are terrifying.
Here’s the good news: overcoming that pain and terror is exactly why this post was born. Whether you’re staring down the barrel of 4,000 new faces at Content Marketing World 2017 or are about to bravely dive into a different conference altogether, you can beat obscurity.
Best of all, you don’t even have to be a speaker or presenter to do it.
In fact, being unforgettable is easier than you think. It all comes down to a single principle: add unforgettable value.
How? I’m glad you asked. To answer that question, I’ve put together five tried and tested ways to add unforgettable value at your next conference — chalk full of real-life examples and advice from people just as anxious as you are.
Get Colorful and Bring Props
Any conference or event worth its organizational salt has a visual theme. This is more than just the topics or titles; it’s what academics into group dynamics call “symbolic convergence.” Basically, people naturally rally around symbols, especially when those symbols have an easy- to-identify color scheme.
That might sound shallow, but it’s the reason we don’t just care about flags, but red maple leafs, stars and stripes, and the “red, white, and blue.” The same theory holds true at conferences, although — at a place like CMWorld — standing out in a sea of orange does take a bit of extra creativity.
As a starting point, take Simon Geisler’s #orangehat, which made its way around a who’s who of heads last year.
The ingenious thing about #orangehat wasn’t only that it was tactical and sharable — both physically and digitally — but that Simon tracked the hat’s journey across the Atlantic. As a result, I knew about the #orangehat and, by extension, Simon himself, before setting foot in Cleveland.
In similar fashion — pun intended — is Joseph Kalinowski’s Orange Pants Society. Founded in 2015, the hashtag-meets-style picked up steam in 2016 with the creation of its very own badge:
Perhaps my favorite example, however, is Heidi Cohen’s orange beret and shawl. In preparation for this year’s event, Heidi even put together a SlideShare and an entire blog post featuring a whopping 45 content marketing experts all sporting her look:
- Be sure you know the color schemes, symbols, and/or mascots of your next conference.
- Do more than just participate. Pick a prop that lends itself to physical sharing.
- Pregame your prop by posting about it before the conference using both the official hashtags as well as your own.
- During the conference, use “symbolic convergence” as a conversational opener, and don’t be afraid to ask other attendees if you can take pics to post on social media.
Find “Your People” by Doing “Your Thing”
Marketers love to talk about segmentation and personalization. Why? Because relevance revolves around the irregular. It’s the specifics of our personalities that make us who we are. And it’s those same specifics that build connections and ultimately sell
So, why not apply that same principle in person? There’s riches in the niches … both fiscally and relationally.
Along these lines, the examples from point one share three elements:
- They kicked things off with a common theme: orange.
- Then, their creators adapted that theme to their personality.
- Finally, that adaptation — especially in the case of Heidi — attracted a specific subset of conference goers.
When you find “your people” by doing “your thing,” you take this approach even deeper. Instead of a physical object, you select a hobby, activity, or cultural subset you’re already a part of and bring it to life.
Dominik Grau’s CMWorld Running Group is a shining example of this principle in action. Launched on day one of the pre-conference, Dominik recruited his fellow runners by posting about the early morning meet up on social channels and in the CMWorld app.
The group never grew beyond 20 or so people, but that’s the point. Instead of quantity, Dominik went after quality. Quality because of relevancy. The jogs weren’t particularly strenuous, but they lent themselves to immediate bonding during the conference and well after.
Maureen Jann’s networking bingo cards and IRL Twitter meetup did the same thing:
“About 12 of us gathered at a hotel bar and then grabbed some dinner after. It gave us all an incredible opportunity to connect, solidify budding friendships and learn more about work, families, pets, and aspirations. I came away with new friends that I’ve stayed in contact with all year long.”
More than another clever object, Lego Man combined color, self-expression, last year’s keynoter — Lars Silberbauer from Lego — and the conference’s closing speaker, Mark Hamill (for obvious reason). In addition, Ben sparked a host of spin-off Lego People who rallied around the iconic toy and the “these are my people” nostalgia it inspired.
Whoever your people are, you can bet — in a group of one thousand or more — they’re out there. Embrace your common irregularities and passions, whether they’re a sport, a hobby, a talent, or a cultural subset, and you’re all but guaranteed to forge unforgettable connections.
Add Value to the Speaks Before, During, and After
One of the most overlooked way to add value at a conference isn’t as a speaker, but as a listener.
Naturally, you’ll want to glean as much insight as possible from any conference you attend. This means checking off a number of boxes:
- Ask your company and colleagues what questions they’d like you to get answered.
- Determine exactly what’s expected in terms of follow up or output when you return to work: e.g., an internal memo, presentation, whitepaper, or public blog post. Be selective about the breakout sessions you’ll invest in.
- Schedule or register for those sessions through whatever form the conference provides.
- Reach out beforehand — through either email or social — to the speakers and vendors you want to meet.
- Don’t be bothersome and don’t be boring. Instead, try Daniel Knowlton’s personalized Twitter gifs approach to break the ice pre-conference.
- Download the conference app, follow the hashtags, join the Facebook or LinkedIn groups, and get active with speakers and attendees alike.
- Take copious notes using whatever notation system works for you. Studies show that handwritten notes are retained the longest, but personally I can’t break away from my laptop, and typed notes make it easier to share my thoughts during the event on social and after the event when I’m recapping.
- Lastly, show up early … to everything.