How to Attend an Industry Conference Like a Boss

Business conferences offer a variety of benefits. Networking opportunities. Gobs of knowledge. Parties galore. Enough to distract even the most focused person.


While networking is a major — if not the major reason — to attend a conference, what can’t be missed is the fact that you have some dynamite speakers sharing some dynamite information.

How do you retain it all, but still have fun? That’s what this episode of The Lede is all about.

In this 22-minute episode you’ll discover:

  • Why a pre-conference game plan is essential
  • What to do with speakers you never heard of before
  • How to bail on a presentation that sucks (without making a fuss)
  • The action-oriented note taking strategy
  • The problem with tweeting during a presentation
  • How to decompress after a conference
  • The perfect time to publish a post-conference summary blog post


The Show Notes


How to Attend an Industry Conference Like a Boss

Voiceover: Rainmaker.FM is brought to you by The Showrunner Podcasting Course. Your step-by-step guide to developing, launching, and running a remarkable show. Registration for the course is open August 3rd through the 14th, 2015. Go to to learn more.

Jerod Morris: Content marketing, Brussel sprouts, country covers of songs. Yeah, anything.

Demian Farnworth: New age crystals, which ones are good?

Jerod Morris: Welcome back to The Lede, a podcast about content marketing by Copyblogger Media, hosted on Rainmaker.FM, and featuring me, Jerod Morris, VP of marketing for Rainmaker.FM, and Mr. Demian Farnworth, Copyblogger’s chief content writer and host of Rough Draft.

Mr. Farnworth, how are you? It was great to see you last week at Podcast Movement.

Demian Farnworth: Yes, I enjoyed that. You’re a beautiful person, and it’s good to see you and to know that you are flesh and blood. So thank you. Thank you for being there.

Jerod Morris: Indeed. It was great to see you, too. It always is. It’s probably my favorite part about our annual event, conferences like this, is just seeing people like you especially, but also people that you only see at conferences.

Demian Farnworth: Yeah, I think it’s hard. It would be nice to have an office that I could go to occasionally to see people and stuff like that, could promote better creativity, and then maybe I wouldn’t get on my wife and kids nerves so much at home when I’m trying to socialize with them. Same reason you’re saying, it’s nice to see people, and it’s nice to get to hang out with them and stuff like that.

Jerod Morris: Yeah. It definitely is. That’s why this episode is the second part of a two-part series about conference attendance. In our last episode, we talked about how to approach a conference when you’re there — maybe you’re a sponsor, maybe you’re promoting something — how to approach that and get the most out of that experience.

Today, we’re going to talk about it from the perspective of you being there at a conference to learn. You’re there because there are specific skills, ideas, whatever that you want to learn from, and you’re there scribbling notes during all the presentations. We’re going to talk about some tips for that.

But, again, as we said on last week’s episode, the most important part about going to a conference is the networking. I just want to reiterate that again. As we just talked about, seeing people, developing connections, real connections, the people who you’ll do work with in the future, might be your businesses partner, who shares a new idea with you, making these connections is the most important part. We don’t want to forget about that.

Why a Pre-Conference Game Plan Is Essential

Jerod Morris: Let’s talk about conference attendance from a learning perspective, Demian. I think one challenge a lot of people have when they go to a conference — and we try to alleviate this challenge at Authority Rainmaker, frankly, with the single track is that a lot of conferences present a ton of information. It’s done in a very short period of time. A lot of it is stacked together to the point where, this block of time, there are six presentations. This block of time, there’s six presentations.

You got a few keynotes that everybody watches, but then the real specific break-outs. This person here is talking about how to succeed with paid Facebook advertising, and this person over here is talking about 10 tips to creating a better sounding podcast. They’re at the same time. You want to listen to both of them. What do you do?

Do you have any overview tips, big-picture tips for people who are going to conferences and really want to learn. They really want to walk away with specific skills, specific ideas they can apply to their work the next day. What tips can you give people for how to approach it the right way?

Demian Farnworth: I think this goes back again to what we talked about before: having a plan — even before the conference starts, even before you arrive there. You have the conference schedule. You have the speaker schedule, so go through that. If it’s in a booklet or it’s online, print it out. Go through that and decide for you. Make a plan so you know.

You’re just going to have to make some decisions. What would I rather go to? The A/B testing one about podcasting voice. Maybe that decision comes down to, “Well I know that A/B person is a really dynamic speaker, really exciting, so I may choose that one because of that. For most of this information, too, you can go back. There will be replays on it and everything. But having a plan so you know when you arrive, I’m going to this, and this one, and this one.

Especially for the introverts out there who don’t want to get lost and dragged away. I’ve always learned that having a plan about where you’re going to be because people ask you, “Well, I’m going to this one, then I’m going to this one, and then I’m going to this one. So they can either come along with you or you can say, “Well, I’ll talk to you later.” It’s a nice way to depart, being polite. Have a plan. Then just decide. You have to make some hard decisions about who you see and who you don’t see.

What to Do with Speakers You’ve Never Heard of Before

Jerod Morris: Yeah, the planning ahead part is so important. When it comes to presentations, you hit on something important — that a lot of conferences will send the presentations to you afterward. So you will be able to go back and watch them, get the slides, that kind of thing. So the specific information, you can probably get.

But there’s something about a conference when you’re there you get to see a speaker live. We all know this. There’s something about particular speakers that have that energy, that just know how to present, that it can really help you retain, grasp, and be inspired by the information, where watching it on video or just seeing slides certainly isn’t going to do.

So I really think I think part of the plan, especially for conferences where there are multiple tracks, you have to make choices on who you’re going to see. If you see that, “Hey, there are a few of these topics stacked in the same time slot. I don’t know who to watch.” Go research the speaker.

For example, if Marcus Sheridan, now he’s a keynote speaker now, I don’t think you really have to plan ahead to watch him speak anymore. But if he’s one of those people and you go watch one of his presentations on YouTube, you’ll be like, “Okay, I have to go see that guy live.” You do, because he’s got a special energy, and there are people like that, and you may not have been exposed to all these speakers before.

But I would say really look ahead at the agenda. Map it out, Demian, exactly like you said. Then, if there are those multiple sessions that you want to see in the same time spot, go to the next level. Research who the people are if you don’t know them and make the choice based on, “Okay, I’m going to invest this part of my time at the expense of not going to this other presentation. Let me make sure I get the most out of the live experience.” Sometimes that’s just research.

How to Bail on a Presentation That Sucks (without Making a Fuss)

Demian Farnworth: Yeah. Keep in mind, too, that 15-20 minutes in, you’re like, “This sucks,” or, “This is not what I expected.” You can bail on it. I always sit in the back so that I can make a quick exit at some point. If it’s not going well, the same philosophy applies to reading a book. If you’re not getting out what you need in a book 50 pages in, then bail on it. Same thing with a conference. Especially if there’s another option that you want to go to. Then bail on that one, and then jump into the other one, too.

But I think, too, like Jerod said, plus, the live people, too, they’re accessible pretty much. They’ll probably be available afterwards, so you get great an opportunity to do some follow-up questions. I think most speakers enjoy the follow-up questions — especially if they’re engaging in complex and meaningful.

Jerod Morris: Yeah. I agree. That’s a great thing to do to take the learning to the next step. Again, that’s something that you can’t get from a virtual ticket or seeing the replays. You can’t go in person and ask a follow-up question, make that connection. Obliviously, this starts to bleed into the networking part of it. But I think it can really be a learning part if you have a specific question, as someone who has spoken before — and, Demian, we’ve both presented before.

If someone has a follow-up or maybe they want a little more clarity on something, I want someone to ask me that immediately after the presentation so that I can make it clear to them and to plan ahead to the next presentation. “Hey, maybe I didn’t explain that quite clearly enough.”

Demian Farnworth: Right.

Jerod Morris: Don’t be bashful about that. That’s a great way for both people to learn actually.

Let me ask you this. There’s probably not a perfect answer for this. But let me tell you something that I struggle with sometimes when I’m at conferences. There’s a part of me that wants to just sit back and take in the experience, watch the person’s slides, watch them, just let the speaker deliver their information, and get wrapped up into the experience.

Obviously, there’s another part of me that wants to take notes, jot stuff down, and not forget anything, especially for speakers whose slides are more image-based. It’s just a word, and it’s basically 20 images and a word. You kind of have to write down the specifics. How do you balance that? Balance trying to be in the moment and really experience this presentation that this person is delivering with also trying to jot down notes and scribble down as much of the key stuff as you can do. Any guidelines there?

The Action-Oriented Note-Taking Strategy

Demian Farnworth: Well, my philosophy with note-taking is that the notes that I take down, especially if the slides are available and the pertinent information is on them, the only notes I will then take are ideas I might have from those notes — creative ideas that spring from that thing. If there’s a slide up there and Mike King is talking about a content audit, and then he’s saying something, the note I’ll write down is, “Go check out this,” or “Go invest in this,” or “Go research this.”

It’s some sort of action-oriented idea instead of just verbatim what he said, which is good because I think that’s ultimately what we are after. How can I use this information to improve my job, improve my career, and that sort of thing.

I took a ton of notes when I was listening to Sean D’Souza, loved what he was saying. A lot of it was verbatim of what he was saying, but mixed in a lot of times was, “Okay, so what am I going to do? What’s the idea that sprung from what he just said?” So I write that down.

The same thing happens to me when I’m reading. Like, “that’s a great sentence because it makes me want to do this.” I just underline it, and I go back later. Then I’m, like, “Why did I underline this? I have no clue. Instead, I’ll take a little sticky note and make a note that says do x, y, and z because of this. That’s my strategy behind note-taking.

Jerod Morris: So that way it’s kind of quick. It’s efficient. It works. It helps you remember why it sparked your thought process in the first place. But you don’t get totally lost in the presentation. It’s not taking you 30 seconds to write this down, and then you got to go back and catch up.

The Problem with Tweeting During a Presentation

Jerod Morris: Let me ask you this then. What a lot of people do when they’re at conferences is they will Tweet. They’ll use the hashtag. They’ll Tweet quotes or take pictures of slides, that kind of thing. I try to do this, too.

There are definitely some benefits to doing this. Because as you’re looking to grow your social media presence when you’re at a conference, Tweeting really smart things that a presenter says, even a quick take on it, or something clever, you do it on a hashtag. That can get you followers, and people can notice you and that kind of thing. That can have some positive benefits, I guess, growing your social media presence. So there’s that.

There’s also, of course, educating the people following you, giving them that real-time experience while you’re there. That’s a nice value you can add. But at the same time, when I do that, again, it takes, whatever, 30 seconds to Tweet. You’re looking down. You’re typing. You’re focused on that Tweet. You’re proofreading it. You’re getting the hashtag right. You’re just completely lost from what the person is saying. I don’t know, maybe some people can multitask like that. I can do one thing at a time.

So how should people approach that? There are some clear benefits to doing it, but I feel like you’re not going to get the full experience of the presentation if you’re constantly distracting yourself.

Demian Farnworth: Right. You’re going to lose the thread that the speaker’s on. You said 30 seconds. It takes me two to three minutes because I’m like, “Okay, that doesn’t fit in under 140 characters plus the hashtag. How do I get all that in there?” So you’re working that, and there’s a picture added. So that takes away.

Jerod Morris: You’re going through your thesaurus looking for different words.

Demian Farnworth: Yeah, right. It’s a lot of work. If you can do it fast and you’re fine just kind of pumping things out quickly — I don’t type well, too, because my fingers are fat, and the little things are so small. It gets frustrating. That’s not a policy that I follow a lot.

For Authority, I tried to, at the end of each session, think about what was the greatest moment in that lecture. The best thing that was said, and then just summarize that in a Tweet between sessions. Then share that because, one, I was occupied and wasn’t obliged to talk to anybody. The other thing, too, is I’m not taking my focus away from the actual speaker.

I’m a much better note-taker when it comes to things like that, writing on a note pad. I just try to summarize things afterwards. Write it down what he said. If you can capture it, write it down, and then follow up with a Tweet. Because it is, it’s hard to do it with a Tweet.

The Perfect Time to Publish a Post-Conference Summary Blog Post

Jerod Morris: Yeah. What a lot of people do that I love is they’ll create a recap post at the end. So maybe, like you said, you kind of jot down those moments of inspiration. Maybe you do take a couple of quick pictures of the presenter, maybe a specific slide. Maybe instead of Tweeting it and posting it right in the moment, which takes up all your time during the presentation, save that stuff.

Do it between. Write a blog post at the end of the day. Do a recap at the end of the event. Then you can use all that stuff, put it together. We feel at conferences everything is happening in the moment. It’s exciting. It’s kinetic. We want to share it with our followers as quickly as we can, but these people are all going about their days. Most of them are not waiting on, “Oh, man, what’s Jerod’s going to Tweet from Podcast Movement right now?”

If you could save it for a blog post at the end of the day, I think people would be just fine. And, again, not that you don’t want to get involved in the hashtag and be part of that live conversation online. But maybe just do it sparingly, or do it smartly in a way so that it doesn’t take you totally out of the experience as well.

Last question for you, Mr. Farnworth.

Demian Farnworth: Yes, sir.

Jerod Morris: So you go to this conference for two days, three days, one day, however long it is. It’s just this crazy hurricane of meeting people and presentations and everything. Your head is spinning. How do you then retain stuff? How do you actually take something out of that notebook and make sure that you apply it? Do you have any strategies? While you’re on the plane going home, you jot down three things you’re going to do tomorrow from the conference.

What do you do? What do you recommend to people so that they walk away and actually put some of this stuff into action?

How to Decompress After a Conference

Demian Farnworth: Well, I would say, at the end of the day, or whatever the end of the day means for you. Sometimes, say one you day you’ve attended five presentations, and there’s still three more but you’re not interested in them. Whatever point at the end of the day, go back and sort of decompress, whether you’re in your room or at the bar.

Just take notes and say, “Okay, so what am I going to do with this? That’s the thing for people who want to learn and want to transform what the speaker said into something that is useful and actually improve their business or help their career in some ways.

They have to have a process of taking notes, then taking those notes and saying to themselves “Okay, so what am I going to do? What can I do right now? What’s low hanging fruit?” and make a distinction between the ideas that have come up and the things that you can do.

I think it’s great, too, for people who aren’t note-takers, who aren’t that way, by talking to somebody else. Maybe you pick up the phone, and you talk to your partner back home or maybe just a co-employees and say, “Hey, I just heard this speaker, and here’s the thought that I’m thinking.” Some people are processors in that way, through talking, for example. Whatever way you process, figure out what that is. Then, in strategic moments, go back and then process that, writing it down, talking it through with somebody, what have you.

Jerod Morris: Yeah and then use it for content.

Demian Farnworth: Exactly.

Sharing What You Learned Through Various Types of Content

Jerod Morris: What you learn at these conferences, it’s great seeds for new posts. And, again, maybe you do a recap post. Maybe you do an individual post about every presentation. Then, I would recommend actually send that to the conference organizers.

Both for our Authority event, people would send those to us. I loved reading them. We’d Tweet them out from the account. Because, presumably, an organization, a person putting on an event, they’ve probably got a pretty big following of folks, and they’re going to want the event to have seemed successful and to share positive thoughts on it.

So it’s a good way to take that time, create content based on it, and then help get your name out there to other people. A lot of the things you would do with your content anyway. This is a good way to inspire some of that. Create a SlideShare with the 15 lessons that you learned at X conference.

Get it out in different ways. Do a podcast series on it. You can reach out to the people who were presenters and say, “Hey, I saw you speak at X, Y, Z conference, I would love to talk with you about this topic or about this particular bullet point in your presentation, would you come on my podcast?” I guarantee almost all those people are going to say yes.

Obviously, depending on who they are. I guess shouldn’t guarantee that. I would say that, if someone did that to me, it shows that you’re interested, that you learned something, that you want to follow-up. Plus, the person you’re asking, they know they’re going to be talking about material they’ve prepared a presentation on. They can certainly talk about it on a podcast.

Again, there’s many different ways that you can benefit there from a content perspective, too. So kind of get that game plan in order. But do that game plan right away. The further and further you get from the conference the less — not the less relevant the information is — but the less relevant headlines are going to be that include that event name. When it comes to getting attraction to your content, you really want to try to capitalize on the energy, the enthusiasm of that post-conference haze that everybody’s in.

Demian Farnworth: There’s also momentum coming.

Jerod Morris: Yeah.

Demian Farnworth: From the conference and stuff like that. You kind of want to ride that wave. The short life is very abrupt and short.

Jerod Morris: Yes.

Demian Farnworth: You want to capture that within a day or two. Even if you do something, it could be sub-sequential a week later. I think you’re fine two weeks later. But the farther you get away, the less meaningful it is to other people..

Jerod Morris: Absolutely.

That concludes our two-part series on conference attendance. Again, if you didn’t listen to anything we said in the last episode or this one, just remember that the biggest benefit you’ll get is networking. But if you’re going to promote as a sponsor, if you’re going just to learn, Demian, the big idea that we both came up with in this is plan ahead. Have a game plan. Obviously, that game plan will take different shapes based on what your goals are, but have that game plan.

When you get to a conference, it becomes a crazy time with parties, events, speakers, lunches, networking, and all this different stuff. Just have a game plan, so you know what you’re going to do and to make sure you execute it, so when you’re on the plane home or in the car ride home, you’re not like, “Damn it. I didn’t get everything out of that experience that I could have gotten out of it.” That is what I will say.

Before we close up here, I do want to let folks know, all of our loyal Lede listeners, that The Showrunner Podcasting Course is back open again. So if you are a podcaster, if you’re a potential podcaster, if you’ve been thinking about it, we invite you to come check out The Showrunner Podcasting Course. You can go to

This is the first full launch. It opened yesterday, August 3rd. It will be open through the 14th, so you have a couple weeks. We’d love to have you check it out. See if it’s for you, and if you have any questions about it, feel free to email me directly I’ll be happy to answer questions. They don’t have to be questions about The Showrunner Podcasting Course. You can ask me questions about …

Demian Farnworth: Cheese?

Jerod Morris: Cheese. Yeah, about cheese.

Demian Farnworth: Peanut butter before jelly?

Jerod Morris: Content marketing, Brussel sprouts, country covers of songs.

Demian Farnworth: That’s right. New age crystals. Which ones to get?

Jerod Morris: Right. If anyone asks, you can feel free to ask. I won’t be presumptuous and give out your email address, Demian.

Demian Farnworth: Thank you.

Jerod Morris: People can use mine.

Demian Farnworth: I don’t know anything about crystals anyway.

Jerod Morris: That’s right. Well, cool. Well, Demian, you enjoy yourself.

Demian Farnworth: Thank you, sir.

Jerod Morris: We’ll talk next week on another episode of The Lede.

Demian Farnworth: Yeah, we’re tackling content discovery.

Jerod Morris: Oh, beautiful. I look forward to that.

Demian Farnworth: It will be a nitty-griity one. Get ready. Get your boots on.

Jerod Morris: That’s right. All right, everybody.

Demian Farnworth: Get your waders on.

Jerod Morris: We’ll talk to you next week on another brand new episode of The Lede.