Nearly two years ago now, I wrote a post for the TBEX blog on “How to Rock TBEX and Walk Away with New Friends and Business Partners.”
At the time, bloggers on the whole were just getting a handle on presenting themselves at conferences as businesses rather than individual freelancers or simply traveling nomads. Every single attendee wasn’t showing up with professional business cards, approaching their idols asking how they can work together, and bringing beautiful, printed media kits to speed networking detailing how they work with companies.
So while I think that a lot of the things I talked about in that post—when and where to maximize one-on-one conversations and the best timeline for genuine follow-up—are certainly still relevant, I think that the types of tips people need for TBEX have moved to a different level.
In the run-up to this summer’s European TBEX, I’ve seen some great posts on Twitter from wonderful, highly professional bloggers that I am lucky to know, including:
- 14 Tips for Attending TBEX from the lovely Bryan of The Wandering Gourmand (I especially love the bits about not sending mass generic “nice to meet you” emails or thinking a business card is permission to add someone to your mailing list)
- Preparing for a Conference as a Travel Blogger from the always on-point Chris Christensen (having a business card scanner as he recommends is a lifesaving tip—which I myself still need to implement!)
- TBEX Tips to Have a Spectacular Conference from the absolutely amazing Amanda of Chasing My Sunshine (Her tips on considering where you stay—especially for AirBnB lovers—and making a trip out of the conference are two things I take very serious in TBEX travel planning)
But I think there are some more things you need to know. The dirty little secrets, perhaps? Call them pro tips, unconventional angles, or just pulling back the curtain on the stuff that really goes in the travel (media) industry.
1. Consider Pre- and Post-BEX Events Mandatory Rather Than Optional
TBEX is somewhat notorious for dropping announcements about pre- and post-BEX tours and parties rather unceremoniously, with sign-ups quickly filling up with the lucky schmo who happened to be online when the announcement went up. But if you missed the announcement, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck—and you should make a serious effort to get yourself on a tour if you did.
Apart from the travel research value of the tour, which is very high and I’m consistently impressed by the places that the local CVB shows on these occasions, this is prime networking time. For hours on a bus and often also for a meal, you’ll be stuck with people you came to TBEX hoping to meet, from experienced writers with solid incomes and client lists to hiring managers for companies like TripIt and Viator.
TBEX has also made it much easier to get on tours if you didn’t sign up in advance after a rather controversial incident during a previous European TBEX when some tours went out with less than a third of the number of people who had signed up. Show up at the sign-up table an hour or half hour before the buses are set to go out and let them know you’d like to go. They’ll point you in the right direction, and (100% of the time from what I’ve heard) you’ll make it on the tour.
2. Do Something With Your Name Tag
This is one of my personal pet peeves, but also a problem that can really torpedo even the most awesome conversation with someone you’ve been dying to meet.
At conferences, we’re all tired. And even if someone just said, “Hi, I’m so-and-so,” the chance of that name being (a) heard and (b) remembered is unfortunately quite low. But if you’ve had a really great conversation with someone and they didn’t catch your name, now they’re in an embarrassing pickle. Same if they just want to make a mental or physical note to follow up with you later and you forget to exchange business cards or don’t have them on hand.
Yes, you are wearing a nametag, so that shouldn’t a problem right? But where is it? Is your name large enough to see? Especially in the dim light at an evening party? Or when you’re sitting at lunch and your nametag is hidden in your lap?
As soon as you get your nametag, go in the bathroom, tie a knot in it and check the height. You want it to be high enough that someone can still see it out of the corner of their eye while talking to you and looking you in the eyes. And you want to make sure that it lies flat and doesn’t easily flip over to the wrong side.
3. Attend The Hallway Track
This is perhaps one of the biggest secrets of conferences like TBEX.
Unless they are speaking (or a friend has a talk they promised to go to), a lot of the people you’d like to be networking with aren’t in the conference sessions. While some of them may be in their room sleeping off the previous night’s party (see the next point) or rehearsing their talk for later in the afternoon, they’re often just working or networking in one of the other areas of the conference venue.
A friend of mine who runs a freelancing conference calls the conversations that happen outside of sessions, meals, and parties “the hallway track,” because it’s where the real idea sharing, deep advice giving and hard core bonding happen.
Often people get caught up in the hallway track when they are on their way to a session and run into someone they want to catch up with or whose brain they want to pick, and the conversation goes so far into a session’s allocated time that there’s no point in going. But you can also strategically plant yourself to create and take advantage of these moments.
Where exactly to plant yourself depends on how exactly the conference is laid out, but look for the last area of chairs near where the break area heads into the conference area. You can ask people who are sitting if you can join them, and join their conversation organically when an in arises or just camp out on your phone or laptop and say, “hey, I wanted to tell you how valuable I found your talk!” when a speaker you’ve got your eye on meeting goes by.
4. Sleep Through Sessions if You Want, But Not Parties, Dinners and Afterparties
Here’s the thing: a lot of the sessions cover things that you could learn online if you were so motivated, but the chance to meet all of the people who are attending TBEX in person doesn’t come along all that often.
If you are flagging, overwhelmed or simply need some time to yourself to recharge, the best thing to do is find some session blocks that you aren’t too excited about or where there’s no one speaking that you really want to network with and take a break.
Do not let yourself get so tired or stressed that you take the time between the conference and the evening event (prime, prime time to network with other attendees over dinner) or the tour day after the conference off to rest and decompress.
Even if you need downtime in these time blocks, there are still ways to get it without compromising your networking opportunities. Just find one or two people that you are really interested in connected with or have a spark of a great connection with already, and find a quiet corner and have a lovely chat rather than killing it on the dance floor.
5. Speed Dating/Networking is Not When You Want to Talk to Exhibitors
I can actually speak to this from personal experience from both sides of the table, as I sponsored the 2016 U.S. TBEX for the launch of my book .
If you are fretting over what appointments you did—or didn’t—get during the blogger speed networking hours, don’t. They are not fun. For anyone. Even if you make a really, really great connection with someone, they are going to be so swamped for the next hour with so many other stimuli that the effect won’t be what it should be.
Instead, the time to make an impression is during the sessions (but not on the last day, when a lot of exhibitors have already packed up and/or left). Exhibitor tables are supposed to be manned during all hours of the conference, and if people are giving things away at their table, they’re especially incentivized to have someone there to keep an eye on things.
This is the golden hour for making serious connections with exhibitors, whether people you’d like to write for like Viator or Lonely Planet, or destinations you’d like to plan a trip with. If you’re lucky and you guys are having a great conversation, you can sometimes even get a whole hour with them. Much better than seven minutes.
6. Keep Your Business Cards in Standard Sizes—But Add Photos, Special Info or Folding Features
It makes me super sad when people have awesome square-shaped business cards and I have to fold them to put them in my business card holder. Or when people have something awesome like a set of earrings (yes, this really happened) attached and I can’t figure out where to put the card to keep it safe.
While you want your business cards to be attention grabbing, there is definitely a line. My business cards have seven different photographs on the back (I usually carry three or four at a time), and when it comes time to exchange cards, I fan them out so people can pick. Sometimes this causes other people to come and join our conversation because they are curious and want my card as well! Sometimes people insist on taking more than one, like they’re collectible playing cards.
Anything slightly gimmicky like this is great as long as it fits your brand and doesn’t make the card exchange process too difficult. It’s best when it enhances the exchange actually. One woman I know who provides personal assistant services for small businesses has a folding card that lists her services on the inside—a great talking point. A family I know that runs a travel blog together also uses folding cards, but theirs have photos of each family member and what they do for the site detailed on the inside.
7. Make a Bump List
Chris Christensen also mentioned this in his post and suggested making a list of five or ten people around these areas:
One person you want to thank…
One person whose brain you want to pick…
One person you want to help…
One destination you would like to see…
One company that you would like to work with….
I love his suggestions on who to focus on, but it can be hard when you’re trying to go person-by-person through a list, because the mechanics of crowd flow simply don’t always work in your favor.
I recommend making a list of people that you’d love to meet, whether peers that could be great to work with as accountability partners or folks with bigger blogs or clips that you’d like to get advice from or companies you’d like to pitch, and simply memorizing their faces. This is the hardest part, because if you don’t know what someone looks like—as in presently, post dramatic haircut or the 20 year gap between the headshot they use and now—you essentially have little to go on.
Bonus Tip: Organize Your Own Parties
Now, I need to clarify something very important here. I am not talking about, as Matador Network very famously and unfortunately did a few years back, organizing a huge party at the same time as a TBEX party or running a workshop in the middle of the sessions. I am talking about having dinner parties at your AirBnB on evenings before or after the conference when people are still in town, or getting some cool people together for a wine tasting or group dinner reservation during the dinner hour before the evening TBEX party starts.
But by taking the initiative to corral a group of fascinating people who don’t already know each other and showing them another aspect of the destination you’re in, you not only get points as the hostess with the mostest, but also, you get the opportunity for deeper conversations with people that you’d like to connect with—or pitch—that are attending the conference.
Those are my “secret” tips. Enjoy them, practice them, and rock TBEX! I hope to see you there.