How To Attend Conferences: Ultimate Marketing Guide To Generating Business

Heidi Cohen and Gini DietrichRegardless of your business focus, B2B or B2C, conferences are mega marketing and business opportunities for attendees, speakers and sponsors and/or advertisers as well as event producers.

Before you tell me that trade shows have been a staple of B2B marketing for years and you get it, I propose that you use conferences more strategically than filling a specific marketing event in your plans.

Beyond using trade shows and other large events for competitor and landscape surveillance before and during the events, conferences provide a variety of different opportunities to increase your brand, expand your audience and network, create quality content marketing, and close business deals.

The key to conference attendance success is planning ahead. This article provides a detailed explanation of why and how conferences support your marketing. Additionally, it outlines how tap into the power of conferences to achieve your specific objectives as well as a Conference Survivor Checklist.

Heidi Cohen and Gini Dietrich

1. Conference Attendance And How The Business Works

At their core conferences and other trade shows are live media. Conference producers curate live content in the form of keynotes and presentations for a targeted audience of attendees and sponsors.

5 conference audiences include:

Conference producers focus on assembling high quality content in the form of presentations and exhibit halls to attract a targeted audience for sponsors.

  • Goals: Increase revenues and housefile while attracting press.

Attendees pay to get the latest news and trends, discover new product offerings, gain education, make or maintain business relationships, and to be entertained. Additionally individual agendas may focus on networking, content creation, new jobs, sales, ideas and/or competitive intelligence.

  • Goals: Add to knowledge, build connections and/or create content.

Sponsors or advertisers pay to reach this audience. In addition to branding and visibility, their investment supports developing new and existing customer relationships and building thought leadership. Need help, here are targeted conference tips for sponsors.

  • Goals: Grow housefile, warm leads and sales.

Speakers seek to maintain or build their thought leadership position (aka influencer marketing).

  • Goals: Build personal brands, reader and lead lists and relationships as well as distribute content.

Non-attendee audience are people who are interested in the topic and part of the larger community but can’t or don’t attend.

  • Goals: Follow the related content and social media, for breaking news and education.

2. Why Conferences Are Under-Rated Marketing Tools

As a marketer, I’ve attended marketing conferences since I got out of business school.

At first I focused on learning as much as possible, making business connections and getting fun tchotchkes (Best win—A sailing trip to the Carribean for 2!) Early on, I appreciated the power of the exhibit hall for seeing what suppliers and competitors were doing. Here’s how to make give-aways work to attract conference attendees.

Conference content - Branded GiveawaysCassio Politi and Heidi Cohen with custom CMI swag from Brazil

By the time I got to Bertelsmann, my conference attendance goals evolved to getting at least one new campaign or strategy idea that would generate measurable revenues.

Like other marketers, I also used these opportunities for personal goals such as job hunting and networking.

In the pre-Internet days no one taught me to use conferences to improve my marketing. Nor did my marketing professors ever mention conferences to support marketing efforts. I learned these lessons on my own.

So learn from my conference experience as an attendee, journalist and speaker:

Conferences are under-rated marketing opportunities, even if you don’t attend them.

Conferences are under-rated marketing opportunities, even if you don’t attend them. #conference #marketingClick To Tweet


Use conferences to:

  • Spy on competitors, suppliers and distributors.
  • Spotlight relevant influencers.
  • Find potential new business opportunities and customers.
  • Become part of a community of like-minded professionals.
  • Create and distribute content marketing including press releases.

3. How To Use Conferences For Marketing even if you don’t attend

Use these 5 steps to gather business knowledge and improve your marketing:

  1. Check agenda for key category trends and topics. Conference producers spend a lot of time figuring out what to present. The topics and tracks define this for your business in the next year. Use it to guide your organization’s content creation.
  2. Examine speaker list for influencers. Vetted by the producers, presenters are top thought leaders and best-in-class companies. Examine this list to determine who’s important for your business. Then follow and engage them on social media.
  3. Study the sponsors and other advertisers targeting this audience. Assess why and how they’re using this event to attract their customers. Check competitors, suppliers and distributors to determine how they may influencer your business success.
  4. Register for conference marketing materials, emailings and social media groups. Since conference producers try to attract new attendees and sponsors, see what their doing. Also become an active member of their social media groups and follow hashtags to build your squad and get breaking news.
  5. Bring employees up-to-speed. Once you’ve done this below-the-radar surveillance, share the information across your organization and distribute relevant tasks and projects.

4. Why You Need Conference Content

Conferences help combat 3 information trends every marketer faces when distributing content, social media and advertising that result in the need for increased distribution diversification and budget:

  1. Dwindling attention spans. While many conference and event attendees may zone-out on presentations or constantly check their phones, conferences give you a fighting chance to reach and capture attendee attention.
  2. Decreased trust in media due to “fake news.” Conferences gain trust authority from presenters who are technical experts and professors that customers believe, according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer. As a result, they offer an environment conducive to delivering your message.
    Who customers trust

    Trust has eroded in the last year according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer

  3. Reduced organic reach. While Facebook and Google throw marketers curve balls, conferences provide opportunities to reach your audience. BuzzSumo proved Facebook’s organic decline in 2017 and Edison Research announced Facebook’s first decline in  usage. 

    Facebook Post Engagement By Content Format Over Time via BuzzSumo [Chart- 2017]

    Facebook usage declines-Chart 2018

    Facebook usage declines for the first that Edison Research has been tracking it.

As live events, conferences increase your ability to get the attention of your potential audience and prospects seek because they’re less distracted. Further, attendees are at conferences to engage.

5. Five Conference Attendance Examples That Support Your Marketing

Conference attendance enhance your marketing results. Here are 5 conference attendance examples you can steal and adapt to your needs.

1. Build a community beyond your event. Social Media Marketing World offers an array of social media options in which attendees and followers can participate. Additionally they’ve creates special speaker-only opportunities. Content Marketing World keeps its hashtag and community going with weekly TwitterChats (#CMWorld Tuesdays at noon east coast time).

2. Create conference content marketing: Before, during and after. Conferences are great for fueling your content marketing editorial calendar.  Based on his 14 year old blog, Top Rank’s Lee Odden is the conference content master. His firm won awards for their epic curated content for Content Marketing World.



3.  Spotlight customers. Give your customers an opportunity to shine by co-presenting with them. Do the legwork for them. At MarketingProf B2B Forum 2017, David Berkowitz co-presented with a social media client to highlight how to use B2B social media.

MarketingProfs B2B Forum TacticsHeidi Cohen with the Brightcove team at MarketingProfs B2B Forum

4. Reuse conference content. Since conference content especially presentations require a big time investment, find ways to use it again. For example Curata used Ian Cleary’s Content Marketing World presentation as a webinar while MarketingProfs includes event photos to encourage attendance.

Post Conference Content

5. Take advantage of influencers being in one location to create content. To maximize your results, plan your questions in. LinkedIn’s Sean Callahan created a series of influencer videos while Andy Crestodina asked a mix of people a single question. By contrast, Flipboard set up their red couch for photos.

Flipboard creates user generated content with their red couch

6. 10 Tip Conference Checklist: The Unofficial Conference Survival Guide

To get the most out of your attendance, use my checklist as a conference survival guide.

  1. Have conference attendance plan. Don’t decide on your way there. Also clear your work to laser-focus on the conference.
  2. Pack a conference survival kit. Include business cards, snacks, water, game plan and show app, device batteries and chargers, paper and pencil, and aspirins.
  3. Dress the part. Examine last year’s photos to see how attendees dress. Include one talk-worthy accessory that’s memorable. Wear comfortable footwear. My orange beret goes to Content Marketing World.
  4. Polish your elevator pitch to make great first impressions. Tailor your message to the event and practice! But don’t monopolize anyone’s time.
  5. Meet new people. Use every opportunity to engage including restrooms. Don’t stick to your colleagues like glue. Also, take your eyes off of your phone!
  6. Have a session strategy. Coordinate with co-workers to divide and conquer different sessions. Seating options are: Up front to get access to speakers and power strips or in the back to able to bail if necessary.
  7. Get out and play. Take advantage of social activities and opportunities. MarketingProfs B2B Forum has an early morning photography walk. Jay Baer hosts speaker pre-parties.Heidi and friends at Social Media Marketing WorldJason Miller, Heidi Cohen, Alexandra Rynne, Chris Brogan, Jay Baer
  8. Take care of yourself. Build time and activities (like exercise, eating and sleeping) into your schedule. Stay at a hotel near the conference.
  9. Jot down notes to avoid relying on your memory. Conferences are fire hoses of information. Write session summaries and reminders on the back of business cards for followup. Use pens and phone photos to facilitate information capture.
  10. Build post-conference follow up into your schedule. Take time to decompress afterwards. Capture your thoughts and reinforce learning as soon as possible. Follow up with people and craft conference content.

The How To Attend Conferences Conclusion

Use conferences to build your marketing and business even if you don’t attend.

Among the top marketing uses of conferences are:

  • Competitor reconnaissance. Find out what’s happing in terms of trends, content and social media.
  • Increase your business’s brand and visibility. Be a presenter or sponsor to get your name out.
  • Build your network and audience. This is the basis for future business and sales as well as new jobs.
  • Create conference content marketing. Use conferences to fill and guide your editorial calendar.
  • Expand your social media reach. Participate in the social media groups and hashtags.

Don’t let budgets hold you back. At a minimum, you can tap into the wealth of information and content without attending.

When you do attend conferences, use this Conference Survival Checklist to maximize your investment of time and money.

What are your best conference attendance secrets?

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen


PS: This article is dedicated to Mike Stelzner and Phil Mershon who have done an amazing job organizing Social Media Marketing World 2018. Thank you for inviting me to speak from the bottom of my heart.

Photo Credit: All photos © Heidi Cohen. Use of any photo requires link to this article.

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