#LMA18 is almost here and I can’t wait! I look forward to this conference all year long. I’m excited to reunite with friends and to bring back new ideas to my firm. I’ve been thinking about how I can maximize my time away from the office (missing three full work days is stressful) and use the conference as an opportunity to not only learn and network, but also to build my professional brand.

So how do you get the most out of your conference experience and use it as an opportunity to build your own brand? I’ve put together some of my own tips and shared a few of my favorites from Nancy Myrland’s must-read post, “How To Maximize Your #LMA18 Annual Conference Experience.”

See you in NOLA! (PS – I’ll be speaking at the small- and mid-size firm pre-conference program on Monday, April 9 on how to successfully create a content marketing and social media strategy on a budget, so please join me! And look for Andy Laver and I, who will be your official #LMA18 Facebook Live on-air reporting team for the Virtual 2018 LMA Annual Conference!)

Making the Most of the Conference

Nancy smartly recommends that you plan ahead so you will be laser focused on what you want to accomplish during the conference, but also be flexible. Think about the following:

·        Who are the people you want to see?

·        Know where you need to be and what time.

·        Once you get there and meet people you didn’t anticipate, don’t be in a rush.

·        If you get the opportunity to have genuine conversations with people, let those conversations happen.

Plan Your Sessions: Since there are concurrent sessions happening at once, take the time to review the conference agenda in advance. You can download the #LMA18 app, which makes it very easy to select sessions by topic, type, speaker and discipline. My advice on planning which sessions to attend is to step outside of your comfort zone a bit. So if you are a business development person, don’t just only attend BD-related sessions. Consider venturing into unchartered waters and attending a program on communications/PR. It will help to give you valuable perspectives.

Over iPrepare: if you’re anything like me, your phone is your lifeline to the world both personally and professionally, yet it always seems to mysteriously run out of battery power no matter how long you charge it (thanks a lot, Apple). There’s also nothing worse and more frustrating than being in and out of conference sessions all day and realizing there is not a single outlet to be found in any of the rooms and you only have 18% worth of charge left. To avoid running out of juice in a jiffy, bring a portable cell charger (or two), which are pretty inexpensive on Amazon. Charge them whenever you are back in your hotel room. Also, bring an extra charging cord if you have multiple Apple devices so that you can be as efficient as possible when charging.

Be Strategic About Networking. Look at the list of attendees, speakers and exhibitors in advance. Are there certain key individuals who you want to get to know? There is no better time or place than the LMA Annual Conference where more than 1,600 of the top legal marketers in our industry will be together for three days. You have a great opportunity to make lifelong friends and colleagues. Get to know some of the leading business partners and consultants in the industry. Be smart about how and with whom you spend your time.

Bring Business Cards. For the raffles, of course! But please use LinkedIn for networking. If you must exchange business cards with someone, please only do it for recall purposes of connecting with them on LinkedIN afterwards. (Can you tell that I’m not a fan of business cards anymore?) Make sure to send them a LinkedIn request soon after meeting them but not immediately afterwards, or else you run the risk of looking a little cuckoo. Follow them on Twitter and add them to a Twitter list for the event. That way you can keep track of what your new conference friends are saying.

Be Your Best Professional Self: I must say this because it happens every year, but pleasedon’t drink too much, don’t party too much and don’t stay up too late. Remember that you’re there on your firm’s dime and going to be front and center with many of your most important industry colleagues who could one day hire you or refer you for work, so please present your best professional self at all times. Less is always more at a work conference.

Get the Lay of the Land: The LMA Annual Conference is being held at the Hyatt Regency, and if it’s anything like years past, a lot of time can be spent trying to find where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there (i.e. walking up and down the never ending escalators or football field sized hotel hallways). I highly recommend taking some time at the very beginning to figure out where the key locations are. This will help you be more efficient and, as a bonus, you can help others find their way around the venue, which can give you an instant conversation starter with new people you meet at the conference!

Bring a Sweater: Do I need to say much more here? Those conference rooms are often very COLD. I almost froze to death at one past LMA conference – okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a tiny bit but you and I both know that the entire conference facility tends to mimic Artic-like temperatures that only a penguin could find enjoyable. Be smart and bring a sweater/wrap/blazer/comforter/snowsuit.

How to Build Your Professional Brand at #LMA18

Now that you have the lay of the land at the Hyatt, here’s how you’re going to use the conference to position yourself as a thought leader. Offering value-added, educational content to your peers during (and after) a conference is a strategic way enhance your professional stature (and can often lead to great opportunities). And the best part is that you don’t even have to have a speaking role to do this! Here’s how to transform yourself into a thought leader at LMA18:

Become the Chief Reporter: One of the best ways to build your brand and professional network is to give yourself the job of chief reporter at the conference. Reach out to speakers in advance and collect tips from their presentations as a way to help boost attendance to their sessions. When you get there, use your iPhone and easy transcription tool Temi to do interviews of speakers and industry leaders. Capture tips from attendees and compile into a video, podcast or written piece. Visit exhibitor booths and ask them a question which you can then compile into a story. Survey attendees on their favorite takeaway/insight from the conference which you can again turn into a story. Create content that focuses on the top takeaways/insights from the sessions that resonated the most with you. Always think about how the topics at the conference impact you and your audience.

Use LinkedIn Publisher: LinkedIn can be a powerful tool for publishing content if you have something interesting to say and you’re smart about how you say it. LinkedIn offers every subscriber the option to post blog-length content right on its platform, (just like I’m doing right here!), which is helpful towards attracting a strong following. With more than 500 million professional users around the globe (and growing every day), leveraging LinkedIn’s powerful network for publishing business-related content is something that you should strongly consider as part of your professional branding strategy.

Time is of the Essence: It’s tempting to wait, but it’s usually better to draft the article as soon as possible so that the details and insights from the conference are top of mind. I write the article on the plane home when I am somewhat captive and focused. I either take notes on my iPhone or on an actual notepad. Nancy suggests that you take photos of actual slides – I see a lot of people posting those to social media, and I think it’s a great tip so that you don’t have to jot down tons of notes and can focus on listening instead. Other times, when I live tweet at events, I will go back to the tweets I wrote and compile those into an article. Think of those tweets as a great first draft/outline to your longer story. At the end of the event I have a collection of useful information that sums up the event for me.

In addition, search under the conference’s hashtag (#LMA18) to incorporate some great insights from industry experts as well, always giving them attribution, which will help to strengthen with relationship building and reciprocity.

Give to Get: Speaking of live tweeting and reciprocity, make sure to tag the speakers from the sessions you are covering in your posts to foster relationship building and to give them shout outs. Even better, send them a LinkedIn request complimenting them on their session. Always remember that complements are a great way to build stronger relationships with people in your professional network.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel: Curating content is another way to easily produce content at a conference such as #LMA18. Use a curation tool that enables you to see what other people post on social media. These kinds of tools are most commonly used to collect social media interactions around an event, but you can also use them to create your own story of a conference. Plus, you don’t even need to be at the event to do this if a conference hashtag is consistently used. You can of course also just search a conference hashtag to find the associated posts under a specific conference.

Lists and Numbers Work! Whether curating other work or writing your own, consider utilizing a “listicle” format. They are easy to digest and effectively summarize the main points of the conference. Using numbers in your headline draws in the reader. For example: “5 Great Ideas From (Insert Event)” or “5 Takeaways From (Insert Event)” or “10 Lessons I Learned From (Insert Event).” For example, lists with five or 10 items, tend to have higher readership rates than articles without them.

A Final Thought..: Keep the show versus tell rule in mind with everything you write. Simply put, this is the concept of showing your audience how you are a subject matter expert versus telling them that you are. Be authentic, be unique and demonstrate what makes you stand out from your peers whenever you can. That’s the true key for how to create compelling content of any kind.

If you think of every professional activity – such as attending a conference or event – as a way to build your own brand, you will more effectively maximize every opportunity you have to differentiate yourself. Do more than your peers and you will shine brighter. This is what separates the good from the great.

[With more than 15 years of experience in professional services marketing, Stefanie Marrone leads the business development, marketing and communications functions for full-service, mid-size law firm Tarter Krinsky & Drogin LLP. She has worked at some of the most prominent law firms in the world, developing and executing global revenue generating, business development, internal and external communications strategies, including media relations, branding, content marketing and corporate journalism, and multi-channel content marketing and thought leadership campaigns. She is currently the secretary of the LMA Northeast Region and is a frequent speaker and published author.]