Tip

How not to waste your time at tech events

If you're in channel sales and marketing, attending tech events is -- or should be -- part of your weekly routine.

Those events typically range in format from educational to straight-up networking to workshop-oriented, or all of the above.

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But all too often, I see professionals taking time out of their busy schedules to attend an event for all the wrong reasons (for example, "Wow, the door prize is a GoPro. I'm hitting that event!" or "Acme Vendor always has awesome schwag!"). As the famed managed consultant Peter Drucker once said, "Time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed, nothing else can be managed." Why would you take time out of your precious day or night to gain nothing but a $50 American Express card or 8 MB thumb drive?

To me, that's failing at time management.

So, in that vein, if you are suffering from gadget envy and think attending all the great tech events this year will solve that, here are a few tips on how to get the most out of your experience as a member of the audience and as an attendee looking to network.

  • Google the speaker(s). Take 10 minutes -- that's all -- to scan their bios, see where else they've presented and review any decks they may have uploaded to SlideShare. It doesn't take too much time to find things you have in common that will help your understanding of the topic, and make the ice-breaking conversation after the presentation that much easier.
  • Write down your goal(s) for the event. If the goal of attending your local technology vendor's user group is to get the free food, you should probably stay in the office. However, if you're attending to understand more about a newly launched product or, better yet, to network with peers and learn about their technology challenges, you're going for the right reasons.
  • Bring business cards. Pretty self-explanatory, but you would be surprised by how many attendees forget them. Besides, you need at least one for the giveaway jar!
  • Arrive on time. It's so much easier to make connections when you're not rushed and distracted. Getting to events on time (even early!) allows you to find those you want to speak with -- which typically leads to sitting together for the session, which may lead to more valuable conversation.
  • Ask a question -- any question. Again, hopefully you took a few hours out of your day to learn something you didn't know already or find an answer to a nagging IT problem. So, go ahead and ask. Speakers love questions. And, if it's completely off-topic to what the presentation may be about, a solid speaker will have an answer, or at the very least, he or she will find the answer. Don't be shy. Oftentimes one good question can break the ice for the other attendees in the room, creating a much more valuable session for all.
  • Connect with parties of interest. When you get back to your desk following the event, do only one thing: connect with those you found of interest -- those who can help you succeed and those who will make a nice addition to your team someday. Connect on e-mail, Twitter, LinkedIn or all of the above. Do it before you forget.
  • What did you learn? Write about it (or tell your content team about it). Organizations today must inform their audiences, not promote themselves. As a result, marketing and content teams are always looking for ideas from colleagues. That's where you come in -- tell your team about what you learned, its applicability to your own company or your customer's company, and blog away. You can never share and deliver enough quality content.

Rich Young is marketing and corporate communications manager at eGroup Inc.

This was first published in February 2014

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