Lee Odden

SES Chicago: 5 Ways to Multiply Conference ROI

ses chicago 2009Next week is the final search marketing conference of the year for me and most others in the SEM industry: Search Engine Strategies Chicago is a MidWest focused event that will offer keynotes from the likes of Jeff Jarvis, Author of What WouldGoogle Do? and a multitude of Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced breakout sessions covering SEO, PPC, Social Media and many other related web marketing topics.

I know there are plenty of agencies and companies that are experiencing slimmed marketing and travel budgets, wondering if marketing conferences are worth the investment. Sponsoring and exhibiting are a big part of many companies marketing strategy and for those companies that do it right, with pre, during and post show promotion, it’s very productive. Even at small shows.

chicago lake michigan The majority of attendees at SEM conferences are buyers and sellers of search marketing and related services. They go for many reasons ranging from knowledge, to networking to business development.   Attending 10-15 conferences every year for the past 4+ years has provided me many opportunities to realize how to get the most out of marketing conferences.

Whether the investment in attending a conference is on the company’s dime or the individual, it’s important that conference attendees get the most out of their time at events by setting goals. Managers sending individuals to conferences should be clear about expectations. Company staff should be sure to talk with others within the organization or teams that have attended the same or similar events to gain their insight.

Here are 5 of the most valuable things you can get out of conferences to multiply your investment:

1. Networking – Set goals and identify how many qualified prospects, marketing partners, vendors to outsource to and job candidates you will meet. Schedule meetings, dinners and other social activities IN ADVANCE. Each day of the conference, tally them up and plan how you will follow up. Get creative with meeting new people in between sessions after the conference at social activities and my personal favorite: over food. In my experience, the single most productive situation for generating the most valuable contacts for biz dev, recruiting and many other reasons is over breakfast, lunch or dinner. Coffee works too.

Write notes on the back of business cards and either use a single social network for follow up connections like LinkedIn. Or, segment the contacts you’ve made into groups and choose the best social network to use for follow up. Some people are best to connect with via Twitter or Facebook. Others are best with LikedIn.

2. Knowledge – Know in advance which sessions will you attend and how you capture the information?  It amazes me how many people come to sessions and sit there, listening and doing nothing to document what they’re learning.  HUGE mistake!

Take notes on paper or laptop, photos, audio or video (where allowed). When meeting new people, discuss the sessions with them. Compare notes – it’s a great way to network and to get other opinions. Before the conference, make a grid or a plan for which specific sessions you’ll be attending.  Often times, there is not much time between sessions and the difference between getting a good seat and standing room only can be a matter of minutes.

If you have multiple staff attending a conference, be sure there isn’t unnecessary overlap by planning out who goes to what session. Then follow up during (if possible) or after the conference to share what was learned. At TopRank, our team will liveblog sessions and then create a PowerPoint presentation when they get back to share the most important, actionable things they learned at the conference with the rest of the team. Staying current is one of the few ways to achieve and maintain a competitive advantage in the SEM business.

3. Content – Think about how will you leverage your conference experience to create new content for your company blog, articles, or process documentation.  Set goals for what types and how many content pieces you’ll create each day. The content you capture and create can supply a company blog with numerous posts during and long after the conference. Remember that content comes in many forms: photos, video and audio. If you have an iPhone, AudioBoo is an excellent app for recording and promoting podcasts on the fly.  If a speaker has uploaded their PPT deck to Slideshare, then see if you can embed that presentation in a blog post along with your observations.

Liveblogging is not for the weak at heart, so keeping it simple to the main points of a session is just fine.

Creating content from conferences shows clients, staff and prospective clients (if you are an agency or consultant) that you are on top of what’s happening in the industry.

4. Knowledge Transfer – It’s important to decide how will you pass on the information you’ve acquired to the rest of the team. As I mentioned above, TopRank staff take the highlights from a conference and create presentations which they share during all-hands team training sessions which occur every 2 weeks.  For many people, knowing they will be expected to demonstrate new knowledge and especially, practical tips, helps create an appreciation for capturing such information during sessions rather than simply sitting there and wondering where to party that night.

5. Socialize – Speaking of parties…  After hours events are excellent opportunities for conference attendees to relax, network and share information. Make no mistake, post session networking can be an art form. While it’s important to relax and have fun, be clear about objectives and make a goal of attending a dinner each night of the event if possible. Some dinners are a tradition amongst long time friends, some are sponsored by vendors and some are spontaneous events through new connections and wanting to continue the conversation after the day’s sessions.

After hours events can be good opportunities to capture video or audio interviews, but do it early. There’s less noise, more light and less slurring of words. 🙂

As you can see, there are many more opportunities to get value from marketing conference participation than keeping up to date with an industry. Pre conference goal setting and planning, well defined processes as well as follow up and post event knowledge sharing can all multiple the value organizations realize by sending employees to educational events.

What are your best tips on getting more out of conferences, workshops and training seminars?

Incidentally, I will be presenting and moderating at SES Chicago. Here are the details:

Monday, December 7th 2009 – 3:15pm-4:15pm
SEO Through Blogs & Feeds

Not yet running a blog? Not syndicating your content through web feeds? Then you’re missing out on an important area that can help your overall SEO efforts. Learn more about the unique advantages blogs and feeds offer to Search Engine Optimization.

Moderator: Rebecca Lieb, VP, US Operations, Econsultancy

Lee Odden, SES Advisory Board & CEO, TopRank® Online Marketing
Mark Jackson, SEW Expert & President/CEO, VIZION Interactive
Sally Falkow, President, PRESSfeed
Daron Babin, CEO, Webmaster Radio

Tuesday, December 8th – 4:15pm – 5:30pm
News Search Optimization

News search engines offer a great way to receive targeted traffic related to breaking topics or to help with a public relations launch. In this session, we look at how to make use of press releases and news content to tap into the power of news search.

Lee Odden, SES Advisory Board & CEO, TopRank® Online Marketing

DanaTodd, CMO, Newsforce
Greg Jarboe, President & Co-founder, SEO-PR
Lisa Buyer, President & CEO, The Buyer Group

Conference info:
Hilton Chicago
720 S. Michigan Ave
Chicago, Ill.
December 7-11

To register, visit SES Chicago

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Avatar Jason E Reid says

    Good list. I attended a conference last year in NY that tried to create an atmostphere for this sort of thing, but failed. The knowledge level was either too low to interest the professionals, or too high to be able to help the beginners. And there was a total lack of practical application.

    Wish I could make it to the conference in Chicago. I'm sure it will be very good. Maybe I'll make it next year.

  2. I'm impressed at how much this list could be re-written as “Ways to Improve your Blog”. All of the bullet points necessitate increasing the level of communication and actively trying to become a part of the conversations happening all around you. Get out there! Participate!

  3. your 4th point “Knowledge Transfer” is really impressive….Thanks

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  5. Avatar gethighranks1 says
  6. Avatar gethighranks1 says

    I am expected this conference.

  7. Thanks for this post – having previously worked smaller, local businesses and now having made the move to a corporate environment I now find myself attending some varied marketing conferences. I know that I could be getting more out of the experience and this is a great start.

    And you are right – liveblogging is a challenge. It's an exercise in futility because there is no way you can get it all. And that hurts.

    • Good point about liveblogging and trying to get it all Danielle. That's why it's good to pre-write things like the intro and speakers info. You can even pick and “angle” before the session and pick quotes and statistics offered by the speakers to fill in your outline. Writing realtime articles is an art form and if you can train people at your company to do that, the value from their conference participation goes up significantly from the content created and knowledge gain.

  8. Good point about liveblogging and trying to get it all Danielle. That's why it's good to pre-write things like the intro and speakers info. You can even pick and “angle” before the session and pick quotes and statistics offered by the speakers to fill in your outline. Writing realtime articles is an art form and if you can train people at your company to do that, the value from their conference participation goes up significantly from the content created and knowledge gain.