Finding the “Diamond in the Rough” on the conference circuit

Author: Linda Hull, Director, Telecom Council

diamond in the roughI’ve heard some pretty whacky reasons why startups should attend conferences … “travel the world” was probably the one that had me raise my eyebrows the highest.  As a cash-strapped entrepreneur, I can’t imagine seeing the pyramids or the Taj Mahal would be high on the list of priorities.  Seems more likely one would be rummaging between the metaphorical sofa cushions hoping to find a few errant coins to supplement the business development budget.  Travel and conferences are expensive in cash and time, so finding that diamond hidden among the cubic zirconia is paramount.

Startups can’t expect to grow in a vacuum.  The statistics are humbling – around 50% of startups will fail in the first 5 years. Professional in-person connections can make the difference between being on the right or the wrong side of that 50%.  Conferences and trade shows are a necessary channel to make those connections and promote who you are and what you do.

So here are my top 5 tips for maximizing your ROI:

  • Know your audience

Recurring conferences give you the opportunity to scan previous years’ attendee lists to ensure that the people you need to progress your business will be in the room.  Don’t expect names, emails and phone numbers … most list company names and titles to respect attendee privacy.

  • Play to your strengths

While there’s a lot to be said for speaking on an agenda, if you’re better 1on1 than on stage, find a conference where you can exhibit.  Better still, find one where you can schedule 1:1 meetings.

  • Stand out from the Crowd

Spend some time thinking about how you can differentiate yourself from the rest of the crowd.  It doesn’t have to be with expensive giveaways, just make sure that your presentation or demo will draw people to you. (And don’t underestimate the power of the matching t-shirts!!)

  • Pre-Network

If the conference has a meeting scheduler, make sure you engage potential partners beyond just scheduling a time when you can meet.  Establish areas of interest, and how what you do is better than everyone else they might meet!

  • Follow-up Fast

Don’t delay in reaching out to everyone you connected with while you were pounding the conference carpet. To maximize conference ROI, try to balance 25% pre-work, 50% onsite, and 25% follow-up. You’ll get more value out of one conference done this way than two done without the pre and post.

It would be remiss of me not to point out that TC3 offers everything you need to exploit your business development investment.  Recently referred to as “where innovation scouts go shopping” it’s clear from our attendee lists that the scouts return year after year.  Being one of the first conferences in Silicon Valley to offer 1:1 networking, our portal is slick, easy to use, facilitating messaging before, during and after the event.  We limit demo opportunities to just 50 companies so that the scouts can spend time with every startup, making follow-up less daunting.  And, being a membership association we KNOW our members, and can make introductions on the day, or many months later.

For Startups looking for some stage time, there are still a couple of days left to apply.  If speaking is not your forte then add a demo table to your registration.

Good luck for your “First ✋”, and I hope to see you at TC3!


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