Like most things in business, maximizing your time at technology conferences is all about strategy and planning. This year’s Dreamforce Conference had more than 90,000 attendees with more than 700 sessions and 350 companies showcasing difference solutions. Registration for the conference ran anywhere from$300-$900. Many other conference passes are equally expensive. So how do you make the most of your investment?

Fortunately for you, I’ve attended my share of these conferences over the last decade and have some tips for making the most value out of your conference ticket.

1. Do your homework.

Don’t show up and wander around aimlessly. Every conference has an online agenda available ahead of time. So create your own list of initiatives for the next 6-12 months, and read the conference agenda to figure out which sessions relate to your objectives. I have a template that I use for all shows. It’s easy to read and customize so that it’s most applicable to your goals. Here is a breakdown of a sample matrix.

Column 1 (A3: Projects / Initiatives / Interests):

Whether it’s your own list of future projects, a detailed description of tasks you’re working on or things you’re personally interested in, this template should list it all. Be open with this and don’t limit it.

Row 1 (B1-BX – Session 1, Session 2, etc. and Desc 1, Desc 2, etc.)

List each conference session and overview. This will save you the headache of searching for sessions during the conference.

Matrix Totals

Place an “X” in the cells beside each of your projects, initiatives and interests that match a session description. Do this for all of them until you have gone through all sessions and projects. Once completed, you will have totals at the bottom of each session. The sessions with the most totals are the sessions you should plan on attending.

So now you have the tools and are ready to attend the show. Next…

2. CAREFULLY sign up for sessions.

Keep the following tips in mind so that you don’t overbook yourself:

  • Know the Conference Layout: Don’t sign up for back-to-back sessions if they are on opposite ends of the event center, particularly when attending large shows like Dreamforce or OpenWorld.
  • Give Yourself Breaks Throughout the Day: Don’t fill every second of your morning with four consecutive sessions, followed by three more in the afternoon. You’ll burn yourself out and lose attention, which defeats the purpose of attending the sessions in the first place.
  • Come With a Plan: Come to the session with points you want to address. Write out the questions you want to ask. Doing this will help you maximize the value of attending the session.
  • Leave the Session With Notes: Take lots of notes. Pay attention and see if all your agenda points are discussed. And ALWAYS review your notes afterward.
  • Attend the Actual Session: I don’t know how many times I’ve met someone with a detailed agenda that they didn’t stick to. Don’t be that person. There is a reason why you invested time in creating that agenda, so try to stick to your plan as closely as possible.
  • Don’t Worry If You Miss Some Sessions: It sounds contrary to the point above, but if you miss a session for any reason, most of them are recorded and available after the show. Salesforce records the audio and PowerPoint of every session. So if you miss one you can still get the information.

Now you’ve survived the sessions. There are still a few points to keep in mind.

3. Walk the show floor.

With all the sessions, it’s easy to neglect the show floor. Don’t do it. Here are some show floor benefits.

  • Get a Demo Right on the Spot: Most vendors have their “A Team” at conferences. So get a demo of the solutions on the spot instead of tracking people down later on.
  • Have a 30-second Elevator Pitch Ready: When you get to a booth be ready to give your 30-second or less elevator pitch. What does your company do? What’s your role? Practice it and nail it in order to maximize your time and give people a clear understanding of what you have to offer.
  • Skip the Booth Babe: The point of stopping at a booth is to get some information or see a demo. Don’t waste your time getting the USB stick with the company’s logo (besides, backup is dead). Go to the sales rep and/or engineer who is giving the demo. If need be, let her scan your badge and move on. It’s all about time efficiency.
  • Skip the Tchotchke: (go ahead look it up here. I had to Wikipedia it myself to get the actual spelling). Not sure about you, but I have enough random giveaways in my home office. I don’t need any more bottle openers (with a company’s logo), USB sticks (backup is dead, remember?) or paper weights (are we in 1992?). I’m speaking in general terms here. Occasionally you can find some fun items. So if you spot quality headphones or cell phone chargers, go for it.

#4: Enjoy the Nightly Events

Now that you’ve successfully attended sessions and walked the show floor, you’re exhausted from the note-taking and your eyes are sore from all the demos, it’s time to unwind and enjoy the show. Here are some tips for enjoying the evening “networking” festivities.

  • Go to the Parties: Have a few drinks and mingle. Talk shop and best practices. Generally speaking, I love talking to fellow customers and partners. They often give you the most direct feedback and face the same issues you do.
  • Get as Many Business Cards as Possible: I still talk to a lot of folks I’ve met at conferences. As I said, they are great resources. But before you pick their brains, get their contact info.
  • Bring Business Cards: Don’t be the person without business cards. No writing your name on napkins, giving a colleague’s card, or crossing over a name and number to write yours. It’s just bad form.

5. Know when to call it a night

This isn’t your fraternity’s beer pong tournament. You’re out with professional colleagues. No Gangnam Style bar dancing at 2 a.m. (if you clicked on the link you’re probably as surprised as I am that this tallied 531M+ views on YouTube…again NOT a typo). Leave the way you came in, professionally and stylish, after only a few pops.

And there you go. You have a complete guide to a tradeshow near you. At the end of the day, please remember to enjoy the show.  Because whether you do or don’t, the next one is only seven weeks away.

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