First and foremost, I will warn you that this blog post will be much more personal than any other I’ve written. So let me start off by introducing myself:
My name is Erin Colombo and I am the marketing manager of Results at Hand. For a little background info, I graduated from Oakland University in December where I studied Marketing. I have two siblings and just became an aunt to a very adorable nephew. I enjoy watching Game of Thrones, gaming on my PC, and going to concerts in my free time.
Personally, the beginning of the month of March was very exciting for me. I will admit the thought of spring being right around the corner is a miracle in itself. But actually, March 1st was the mark of my new job role and the day I left for my first conference: 2015 MPI MAC.
I spent weeks preparing for this conference, deciding how many of my brand new business cards to pack, reviewing my notes on people to meet, planning which sessions to attend, and making sure the conference app was perfect. Yet during the trip there on Sunday, I couldn’t stop worrying.
Now I’ll be the first to admit I can be a bit of an over thinker. And by a bit, I really mean I worry about the most obscure and obscene scenarios. So naturally I was somewhat of a nervous wreck before my first business conference. Yet as my mother always told me, everything works out in the end. With that in mind, here are my 3 takeaways from my first conference experience at 2015 MPI MAC:
Networking Is Not As Scary As You May Think
Because I am young and truthfully very small, I hate to admit my biggest fear was rejection. What if everyone stares at me? What if I can’t make friends or even worse, they don’t me seriously?
Now I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes and think I’m crazy for this being my biggest concern but this was a whole new experience to me. I was too busy working two jobs while going to school full time to attend any of those practice networking sessions or job fair mixers (Or so I told myself). And here I was going into the “real world” as an exhibitor/sponsor at a three day conference with little to no practice networking professionally really wishing I had taken up those school offers.
Of course, it was NOTHING like I imagined. Within the first half hour or so, all my nerves vanished. I proudly wore my nametag ribbons, including First Time Attendee, on my conference lanyard, had about 10 business cards stuffed inside, and felt excited about the new people I was going to meet.
Unfortunately, remembering names is not my strong suit. So it was incredibly helpful to have the conference app. I was able to quickly favorite the person I was talking with and type in my notes in the moment they left. And if I didn’t get a chance to remember their name, I browsed the directory for clues. And although I came home with a stack of business cards, it was those in-app personal notes that helped me most when it came to following up.
Sure, I was the only one to be carded at the casino reception and received the occasional comment from someone about being as young as their kids. But never did I once feel insulted or disrespected. Nobody stared at me. Nobody was rude or laughed in my face. And why would they? These events are intended for people with common interests to network and build relationships.
And as cliché as it is, I could feel it in the air. Everywhere I went, whether it was at a session, during lunch, or at our booth, every single person I encountered was beyond friendly. And as I will explain in my last point, this positive energy can create a sense of community throughout the duration of the event.
If You Give Your Attendees a Reason, They Will Come
MPI was celebrating their 15th annual MidAmerica Conference in Covington, KY. Now nothing against Kentucky, but all I could think about was how awful it use to be driving through the state with my family on our long journeys to Florida when I was young. So of course my one perception left me wishing we were going to a different and warmer location. Yet, I was blown away the moment we arrived. The Cincinnati Marriott RiverCenter alone was a gorgeous hotel with waterfalls and an indoor gazebo. And with the Northern Kentucky Convention Center connected, going between the conference and the hotel was so easy.
With an already great location, the MPI MAC organizers really out did themselves. For starters, the opening reception had a huge selection of records to pick from for the DJ to play. The lobby’s giant gazebo also hosted live aerial artists, making it a one of a kind experience. Although the conference was beautifully decorated everywhere, my true admiration has to go out to Saturday night’s evening reception at the Horseshoe Casino. With the theme of the conference Through the Looking Glass, this reception was Alice in Wonderland inspired.
The reception was hosted in a rather large room in the upstairs of the casino. It was brightly decorated and filled with oversized chairs, black & white patterned cloth tables, and more desserts than you can imagine.
The reception also had casino dealers teaching attendees how to play Blackjack, Craps, and Poker. It was a safe and neat way to include the casino into the reception, especially for people like me too fearful to play the real tables. And by having the conference app’s Photo Gallery feature in place, everyone was able snap and share their favorite moments with each other.
I honestly could rave for hours about the décor details from being greeted with “Drink Me” bottles to the maze of beautifully decorated rooms. As I’ve been telling all my friends and family, it was an experience I won’t forget. If I wasn’t already planning on going to next year’s conference as a sponsor, I’d be finding a way to attend just to see what MPI MAC will bring next year.
Being Helpful Goes a Long Way
As I mentioned, being friendly almost comes natural when you’re part of a conference. However, it’s those random acts of kindness and assistance that make all the difference and drive that feeling of being surrounded by a community of friends.
During a session I was attending, the speaker mentioned she couldn’t get her slideshow up in the conference app. I waited till her presentation was over, introduced myself, and offered to upload them for her. Another time, we were stopped by the 2015 MPI MAC hosts in the hallway to answer a question on setting up push notifications. And one woman came to our booth just for help on using a QR code scanner.
All of these instances really took no more than a few seconds to resolve. And in turn, the people were so appreciative and knew they could come to us for any other questions. But we certainly weren’t the only ones offering help. One attendee offered to walk me around the exhibit hall since she knew it was my first conference. She took the role as my personal tour guide, introducing me to all the exhibitors and letting me know what goodies were for grabs. It was honestly so sweet and really helped me conquer some of those networking fears of mine.
I think that moment really allowed me to understand what attending a conference means. Yes, it’s about learning the industry, making those connections, and even having fun. But the most notable takeaway I had was the purpose of helping others. With everyone being under one roof with common interests and similar goals, it only makes sense to help however you can.
So next time you’re at a conference and see that person wandering around trying to find their session, I encourage you to try to help them find the right place. Or if you notice someone standing by themselves or struggling to find somewhere to sit for dinner, invite them to join you. By offering a helping hand, you will help make that individual’s experience so much better. And that’s what it should be all about.