Ludovic Ulrich hails from France, but he’s spent more than a decade leading projects at Apple, Microsoft, Salesforce—the goliaths of Silicon Valley. Sure, these companies may dominate the digital world, but they all wield a powerful weapon in engaging their customers and partners. . .
Sometimes it’s their own user conferences like Dreamforce, and often its partner conferences where they speak, exhibit, or and attend. Through all of his travels and conferences, Ulrich has developed a superpower he’s learned to use to support startups and his own initiatives.
Beyond being the Director of Salesforce for Startups, Ludo is a is the sensei of startup and technology conferences, having spoken at, sponsored, and attended dozens (if not more). In this interview, Ulrich shares exactly how to find the best conferences and how to attend those conferences to yield insane results for your business and career. Watch it here:
Or listen to the audio on how to find and attend conferences here:
I’m going to dive right in. But first, let’s address the elephant in the room . . .
Are conferences a waste of time?
The way that most people attend conferences, it’s a complete waste of time. But that’s not you. You’re in the 1% who wants to get the most out of your experiences. So, we’re going to show you have attending conferences can become the most valuable thing you do, mmkay?
“Do your homework,” Ulrich says. “Who are the sponsors? Who are the speakers?” If you’re not seriously curating your list of potential conferences, you’re missing the most important part of developing your event efficiency.
Find the conferences where you know—or are very familiar with—at least one of the speakers, sponsors, or organizers. These people can be your seminar sherpas, blazing the trail for your at conference breakout sessions or on the tradeshow floor. Lean on these people to get to the good stuff, especially if they’ve attended the conference before:
Which after parties are the best for your industry?
Which sessions are the most productive?
Use social media at events to follow the connections and chatter in your industry. Leverage connections with large brands to gain access to the best parts of conferences and learn how to make the most of your visit. Then, go to work on your plan of attack. . .
How do you stand out at conferences?
This ain’t no junior high school dance. So why do so many people play conferences as a lone wolf or around the periphery?
If you’re going to spend the money, and more importantly take the time, to attend an industry conference, you must jump in there and make the most of every minute. You want to be yourself, but you really want to be the best version of yourself.
Don’t mingle for the sake of mingling. Have 1-3 specific asks in mind before you even go to the conference (for investors, it’s __________ …. for developers, it’s __________ … for the media and bloggers, it’s __________).
Don’t actually take breaks during the break. That’s for suckers or people who drink too much Mountain Dew …. But seriously, find the people who you really want to connect with (you probably created this list while doing your pre-conference research).
Don’t be a clingy conference goer. Make your connection, find an opportunity to reconnect later, then move on. No one wants to be latched to someone at the hip for an entire conference. This will inhibit your ability to move around, meet new people, and find new opportunities. So get your ninja uniform on and be the event assassin that I know you are. And yes, I mean that as a metaphor.
You were probably wondering, and the answer is yes, you can go too far. . .
WARNING: Don’t Be This Person at a Conference
Keep an eye out for any behaviors that might group you into one of these conference attendee categories:
- The eye darter: These are the people who are never fully present in anything. They have so much FOMO (fear of missing out) that they’re constantly looking around for the next best thing—even if they’re already in a conversation.
- The card pusher: “Here’s my card!” We all know this person. They push their cards on anyone and everyone even if there’s no logical reason to exchange contact info. As a general rule: don’t give out your card unless someone asks you for it.
- The frat boy/girl: You can always find this person within proximity of the bar. “Open bar, dude!” is the warcry of the conference frat boy or girl. But a conference isn’t a frat party. So just know your limits, and you’ll avoid being grouped into this category.
How do you approach someone at a conference?
Ahhh, now you’re asking the right questions young padawan. This is the most important skill in for a productive conference attendee and there are a couple of important principles to keep in mind.
First and foremost, be respectful of people’s time. Everyone has ponied up their time and money (or their employer’s money) to be at the conference or tradeshow and there’s a finite amount of time to take it all in. So you need to always be thinking about answering one question:
How can you make it worth someone’s time to talk to you?
There are a couple of strategies here. It’s important to be interesting, so even if you can’t do something to directly help someone or their business, you at least have an engaging exchange and that person remembers (at least in general) what you’re all about. That means you should have a couple of canned anecdotes that bring you and your business to life!
Ask your marketing director (or a friend who is a good story teller) how to talk about what you do in a way that makes it interesting. You can find a few ideas here.
And I already mentioned this, but it bears repeating. . . Have a clear ask. Preferably this person will have mentioned something that makes you think they can help, but even if the opportunity doesn’t present itself, you can always go with something along the lines of “You know, I’m working on this facebook ad campaign and it’s really challenging because it’s my first time doing an ad buy… You wouldn’t happen to know anyone with experience with that, would you?”
Not the most tailored approach, but still much much better than “So I heard the Foo Fighters are playing later. That’s pretty cool.”
When in doubt, show that you’ve done your homework. If you don’t know anything about your new conferencemate’s company or industry, you can always create some value by sharing something interesting you learned about the conference during your pre-conference research. Maybe it’s an uber-secret after party, or maybe it’s just a hidden gem of a coffee shop that has great wi-fi and lattes . . . but if you’re generous to conference goers, the conference will be generous right back to you.
Where can I do more research on conferences and industry events?
I’ll be putting these strategies the Salesforce Startup Summit, a conference produced by Ulrich and his team within the larger Dreamforce conference in San Francisco. If you want to join me, just drop a comment below and I’ll send you a code to get 50% off your Startup Summit registration. Or check out other great conferences in your industry.
I like using Lanyrd when researching and searching for events, but you can also find great stuff on Techmeme and similar information hubs. As you attend more conferences, you may even learn some techniques for getting into events for free. Now, you’ll be the pro.
What conferences have you attended? What are the most productive parts of events for you?