Derek Sivers

How to make a conference worth it

Most people waste their money when they attend a conference. But if you’re smart, you can make it very worth your time and money. Here’s how:

The Tao of promotion: it’s about them, not you

You know the way to be interesting to others is to be interested in them.

So, the week before the conference, read “How to Talk to Anyone” or any book about how to be a great listener.

Then use the conference as your testing ground for your new listening skills. Get extremely interested in those around you. Think like an investigative reporter.

For each person you meet, think how can you help them

Turn to a stranger and say, “Hi. What do you do?”

Ask follow-up questions about how they got into that. What they love and hate about it. Ask why they came to the conference. Talk about non-work-stuff, too!

Notice your similarities. Appreciate your differences. Be very curious about their unique perspective. Learn from it.

Think of how you can help them. If you don’t know yet, keep asking questions.

Sometimes the way to help someone is not what you’d expect! If they are painfully shy, maybe the best way you can help them is by introducing them to the next person you meet, or inviting them to dinner. If they are painfully popular, maybe they need your help to escape the crowd for a little peace and quiet.

Trade contact info within a few minutes of meeting. If you wait too long, one of you will get pulled away, and it will be too late. If they have a business card, take notes on the back of it as soon as the conversation is done.

Each night, before bed, enter everyone’s info into your computer, including your notes. It only takes 15 minutes, but it’s crucial to do it that night before you meet more people the next day.

Send them one tiny email immediately, connecting the digital you to the physical you. (“Hi John. Nice to meet you today. You were right about the burritos! Here’s a link to that site you asked about. See you at the wrap-up party tomorrow.”) Your email signature should have your full contact info.

By being sincerely interested in them, and actively trying to help them, they will likely be interested in you, and try to help you.

What about me?

Notice I said nothing about promoting yourself. You have to trust the Tao of promotion. This is about them, not you. Your promotion will come later.

When they do ask about you, have a very short but impressive summary of what you do, with one question-inducing curiosity. “Songwriter of the Crunchy Frogs - the worst punk bluegrass band ever. We’re headlining the showcase tonight. Our singer milks horses.”

Then shut up after three sentences. Please. Stop there. Wait for them to ask, or change the subject back to them if they don’t!

Do not push your crap on someone who isn’t asking for it. It’s the biggest turn-off of all. Because it shows you don’t understand the real point, which is...

Real business is done in the follow-up, not the conference itself

The conference itself is a mad blitz of distractions. Only use it for these initial connections, as described above.

Assume that anything you hand someone at a conference will be thrown out. So don’t do it, unless they ask.

Instead, if you want them to have something of yours, send it to them separately, afterwards.

The best time to get down to business is when they’re alone, back at their desk, a week or two after the conference, undistracted, and can give you their full one-on-one attention.

That’s when you want someone checking out what you have to offer: when they’re focused on you - looking at your site.

They’ll remember you as incredibly nice and a fascinating conversationalist. When they find out you’re also incredibly talented, they’ll feel they found you - not bombarded by you.

It’s all about the follow-up

After attending over a hundred conferences in 20 years, I can tell you from experience that only about 1% of the people ever follow up. Therefore, 99% of them wasted their time. Please don’t be in that 99%.

It’s all about the follow-up. It’s only about the follow-up. Remember this, and you’ll do well.