I’ve been gearing up to attend a conference and if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been to your share of conferences throughout the years.

They can be great events that contribute to your long-term success or they can be a short-term waste of money.

A big part of a successful conference is how you approach it. Here are some suggestions to make sure that the money you spend to attend conferences becomes a good investment.

1. Know why you’re attending.

This is the single most important thing to do if you want to get real value out of your time. Having a purpose will steer a variety of decisions — and that’s what I’ll discuss in my next points.

Good reasons for conference attendance include:

  • Networking,
  • Getting up to speed on industry developments,
  • Gathering inspiration,
  • Checking up on the competition, and
  • Making sales and marketing contacts.

2. Put yourself out there.

If you’re networking you will want to focus on events that bring you into close contact with others. Mixers and smaller group settings will be good. Keep your evenings free for impromptu gatherings. Also, participate by asking questions and go out of your way to introduce yourself. Have beautiful business cards always at the ready along with your one-sentence introduction.

3. Make a plan. 

When it’s time to catch up on what’s going on in your industry, you need to carefully plan which sessions will be the best fit for you. Study the list of presenters and exhibitors to find the gold among all the dross. When you’re at sessions and immediately thereafter, sort out “ideas” from actionable items.

4. Look for inspiration.

Conferences offer a variety of ways to get inspiration. You may be thrashing about wondering where your next growth opportunity is. Ask others. See what other people are planning in your field. Maybe you need inspiration for your content marketing program. Attend talks by the most notable “thought leaders” and keep track of their big ideas. You can rework them for your own content, or just for fun take “contrary” positions: Expert thinks didgeridoos will continue to lead sales — I think their day has come and gone!

5. Scope out your competition.

You don’t need to don your trench coat, dark glasses and a wig to gather a little intelligence on your competition. Why not just engage them in conversation? Find common ground, perhaps mutual acquaintances. If you do find mutual friends, then they might be more sources for gathering a little information on your competitors.

6. Bring your A game.

Sales and marketing professionals may want to cover a lot of ground, pulling people and companies into the top of their funnel, or they may need to spend some concentrated time with prospects that are further down the funnel. Despite how busy conference attendees can be, don’t be afraid to ask for the sale. If you don’t ask, you’ll never get it.

Finally, no matter what your primary goal is, be sure you’re well rested and have spent sufficient time going over pre-conference materials to have a good mental roadmap of the event. Also, avoid too much alcohol and don’t plan on catching up with old school chums in your “free time.”

Stay focused on your business goals.

Have any conference tips I didn’t cover? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

About the Author: Susan Solovic is THE Small Business Expert. Sign up for Susan’s Success Tips Newsletter and get your free copy of “Smart Marketing Strategies for Small Biz” ebook.