With just under a month to go before the Spend Matters and ISM Global Procurement Tech Summit taking place in Baltimore March 14–16, I thought I’d share a few tips on how to get the most out of procurement conferences, having gone to more than 100 of them in my career. (Hard to believe, but true.) Here are 10 quick tips, starting with five today.
1. Mix Up Your Events Each Year
This goes for both practitioners and providers. Since most event companies don’t have a lot of subject-matter expertise of their own and tend to work with the same steering groups on deciding topics, there is often a lot of groupthink from year to year and little variation of topics or content. (Not to mention the crowds for networking tend to be similar from event to event with the same companies). The simplest answer to overcoming this is to mix up the events you go to, perhaps with the exception of “massive” events like ISM and the BME annual events, if you make an annual pilgrimage to them.
2. Plan Ahead
Study the agenda. Look at the sponsors. Know what sessions you what to attend and whether or not you want to proactively engage with any of the vendors, consultants or services providers that are coming. If not, politely decline any extra activities. (Unless, of course, you want free cocktails or dinner.) And if you know you want to talk to certain attendees or sponsors in particular, plan ahead so you know who you want to engage with to learn more. Also plan ahead any questions that certain sponsors could answer. For example, if you want a neutral opinion on a particular software package (or alternatives) and a Big Five firm is sponsoring, don’t be afraid to ask. It’s free consulting on the spot.
3. You’re There to Learn. Don’t Forget It (or How to Learn!)
Events are not just about being social and networking, something I think is really overplayed generally by conference companies in general. Don’t forget: You’re going to the event to learn. As such, jot down ahead of time the three to five topics you want to get smart on. Be sure to write down notes when you get free time (and make the free time to do it). I started writing live blogs at events to essentially take notes for myself.
But one tip that might be easier to follow is to prepare a presentation that you will need to give the day you get back (even if it’s just for you in reality). Five to seven slides in total — it’s short. Take live notes, including lessons learned and key takeaways for you and your firm, and plan to have the deck done not on the flight back, but by the closing session. That forces a rigor in learning and documentation in real time. Trust me — you’ll thank me for this tip!
4. Go to the Bar
The most interesting conversations I have at events (unplanned) always happen over drinks. (And no — you don’t need to be drinking yourself.) There’s something about the informality of it and the fact that networking is not forced in this environment, as it so often feels when foisted on us in others. It just happens. So go to the bar after the final session of the day — don’t sneak in a workout during happy hour. If you don’t network any other time, that’s fine. But this is time you won’t want to miss to talk to folks you know or have chance discussions with others.
5. Download the App Before You Arrive
Most events have apps these days. They’re great on many levels, especially if you’re as disorganized as me. Even checking the agenda is easy on them. But so too is rating speakers, reading attendee updates and comments on the show and more. It’s a great means to engage (directly or passively) in the festivities.
No app? Print out the agenda as soon as you get it and take a snapshot of it on your phone. Trust me, you’ll refer to it after leaving the printed handouts back in your room.
We’ll continue our tips in Part 2 of this installment. In the meantime, don’t forget to register for the Spend Matters and ISM Global Procurement Tech Summit in Baltimore March 14–16.