There are many reasons that ABA TECHSHOW has become such a popular event. This annual gathering brings together some of the foremost experts on legal technology in the country. While people often think about the kinds of information they are going to gather and the content they can bring back to their legal practice, they may not necessarily think of the other people they meet at ABA TECHSHOW as a potential boon to their practice. And while the technology content will provide new practice efficiencies, some may fail to think about ways attending the meeting brings so much more. There is absolutely no substitute for in-person contact. So if you are attending this meeting, or another industry or bar association event in the near future, it pays to think strategically in advance about the ways you can get the most out of the program.
Plan in advance
The best way to get the most from the meeting is to spend a bit of time prior to leaving your hometown making a plan for the conference. If you can obtain a registration list prior to arriving, make a copy and highlight the people whom you want to meet. If you give yourself some time, you can email key attendees to let them know you will be there and that you would like to get together. Schedule conference planning time on your personal calendar—it’s the only way that you will have the time to do it.
Decide in advance which programs you want to attend. When there are a number of competing offerings in the same time slot, making the decision on the fly isn’t the best way to plan your time, and you will be using contact time to make a decision. Plan your program attendance and save the break time for meeting people.
If possible, make dinner reservations in advance of the meeting and invite key contacts to dine with you. There is nothing worse than being at a large conference, standing in the lobby, trying to gather potential dinner companions and determining where to go. You can literally be a conference hero if you spend some time prior to the meeting scouting potential dining locations within walking distance of your meeting and making an advance reservation for a reasonably sized party.
There is often nothing more inconvenient than being at a meeting and spending an hour and a half waiting in a bar for a table because no one thought to plan ahead. Here is a good opportunity to use that technology, whether it is OpenTable reservations, Yelp, Chowhound, Urbanspoon or a local foodie site. Depending on the kind of restaurant, many are amenable to small changes in reservations the day of the event in case your party grows or shrinks.
Think in advance about what your desired goals are for the conference. Is there some technology about which you would like to obtain peer reviews while you are at the meeting? Is there a speaker with whom you would like to engage? Is there some information about a specific technology that you have promised your firm you would return knowing more about?
Make sure to visit the vendor hall but know that you don’t want it to eat up too much of your time. Again, you can probably obtain an advance list, not only of the participants, but sometimes of the exhibit hall layout as well.
At the Meeting
Introduce yourself. It is amazing how often lawyers will fail to introduce themselves when they are in a small group. It might be reticence, fear that they have been introduced before and forgotten someone’s name, or a general concern that you should already know someone. No one ever minds an extra introduction. If this is one of your target connections, make sure to let the person know why you are particularly interested in making their acquaintance. No one is immune to genuine flattery. Exchange business cards, and make notations to yourself about possible follow-up opportunities, or any promises that you have made for information exchange.
Resist the urge during the meeting to stay overly connected to your office. If you have prepared clients and colleagues for your absence, unless you are facing an immediate deadline upon your return, other contact is probably unnecessary, and overkill. If someone else is subsidizing your attendance and you spend too much time connected to the office, they may wonder why you went at all. And they may question your commitment to the content of the meeting.
A New Conference Problem
While it was once the case that the refreshment breaks at conferences were opportunities to meet and exchange information with colleagues in attendance, it is more often the case that people use this time now to answer email, make phone calls to the office, or tweet about the meeting. So while you used to see people engaged in conversation about the previous session, or meeting new people who might be good contacts, or engaging with people in the vendor hall, now everyone is hugging a wall somewhere at the hotel looking at their mobile. Resist the urge. This is your chance to have in-person contact with people you have always wanted to meet, people who you know but don’t get to see very frequently, and people who have information that you need to get from them, or people with whom you need to share information. If you encounter your target audience looking down at their iPad, Android or iPhone—don’t hesitate to interrupt them, and find out when they will be free. Honestly, what they are doing has, to some extent, simply become reflex action. They have the time to spend with you, and it’s probably what they should be doing. If they, or you, have a critical need to communicate with someone back at the office, it is most appropriate to leave the break room space.
After the Meeting
On the plane on the way home, plan your follow-up strategy. If you made promises to send information or make contact with someone you met at the meeting, make plans to do so. If you heard about a resource that might make your work more productive, take note. One of the ways you foster your reputation as a go-to person is to follow through on commitments to those you met that others may only perceive as possible suggestions.
If you have attended the meeting on someone else’s budget, write a brief report about the ways you will apply what you got from the conference. If you learned something particularly compelling, consider having a brief meeting with your peers to share what you’ve learned. The best way to learn anything is to teach it, and this would be an opportunity to reinforce your learning and bring something back to your business. Now is the time to make your blog entry about what a great conference you attended, and the ways in which your newly found technology expertise will add to your practice efficiencies. But at the actual meeting, it’s all about face time.