The Byrne Blog

John Byrne Communicating About Communications

What to pack for a marketing conference

I will be on my way to Content Marketing World in Cleveland early on Monday morning, and I’m just now thinking about what I need to pack.  Yes, I am not one of those people whose suitcase is stuffed with my clothes and toiletries days before I head out the door. After several years as a road warrior, packing the night before is just fine, even efficient.

But if you’re looking for advice as to what kind of clothes to bring beyond “comfortable,” this isn’t your kind of post.  Sorry.  Still, there are several things that you still need to pack in preparation for attending a conference full of marketers.

You see, although I haven’t been to many non-marketing conferences, I’m sure that marketing conferences are probably a little different than, say, your standard conference filled by lawyers or doctors or bankers (oh, my!).  The biggest difference:  Marketers like to network.  And talk.  And network some more…  See, we’re the people who bring you all those programs on “How to Network” in the first place, right?  It stands to reason that we’re going to practice what we preach.

What to bring to a marketing conference?

Stamina:  Maybe this is every conference, but there are going to be some long days, and some long nights.  Breakfast is at 7:30 and the speeches start around 8.  Didn’t go to bed until after midnight?  Join the (bleary-eyed) crowd and put your game face on.  Down some Advil and gulp that coffee.  Tired is for wussies.  (But you are allowed to roll your eyes at those perky braggarts prattling on about getting up before sunrise to run their daily half-marathons.)

Smiles:  Yeah, sounds kinda stupid, but everybody smiles at these conferences.  If you don’t, expect to sitting alone at lunch or standing single in a corner at one of the two dozen cocktail receptions being held.  You’d be amazed at how inviting a simple, and sincere, smile can be.

Your “Networking” Face:  Goes with your smile, but also includes other facial expressions and head gestures, also authentic, like the “interested eyebrow raise” and the “understanding nod” and the “sympathetic frown.”  It’s impossible to respond to or want to be around the “blank stare” or the “distracted eye twitch,” so only use those at home with your spouse or kids.  And don’t even think about the “creepy wink.”

Proportional listening:  What’s that?  Well, as the old saying goes, “You have two ears and one mouth; use them in that proportion.”  You should be listening to others at least twice as much as you’re talking.  Again, listening should be sincere and not distracted or faked while you’re conversing with someone, especially in a group.  Of course, you need to adjust your talking/listening proportions for a one-on-one discussion, but watch that you don’t dominate.  No one likes a blowhard, even at a marketing conference (which are usually filled with more than their justifiable share, I’m sure, second only to sales conferences).

Contributions:  Marketing, and certainly networking, is a full participation activity.  So while you’re listening, you should also be contributing appropriately to dialogues and other conversations.  When speakers ask for questions, by all means, ask.  Don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re interested in hearing more about something.  By the way, questions are just that.  Don’t get on your soapbox.  If you want to be a speaker, submit a proposal.  Audience members shouldn’t hijack a presentation, ever.

Juggling skills:  At a cocktail party, you can always spot the most talented marketers.  They are the ones who know how to balance a plate filled with cheese and crackers on top of a wine glass in one hand and then shake your hand and trade business cards at the same time with the other.  Seriously, this should be an Olympic sport.  Can’t do it?  Then practice, practice, practice.

An open and inquisitive mind:  last but not least, remember that if you’re a senior marketer with years of experience in the game, you still have a lot to learn.  If you’re mid-career, there’s still plenty of pointers that you can pick up and use immediately.  And if you’re just starting out, don’t be intimidated by all the people around you whom seem to know so much more about marketing or have so much more experience.  They were once in your shoes!

As always, there’s probably a lot more to pack.  What are your suggestions?  Add them in the comments.  In the meantime, see you in Cleveland!


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