I’ve lost count, but this will probably be my 9th SMX conference. Along the way, I’ve figured out a rhythm that works for getting the most out of the conference and I thought it would be helpful for other folks.
If you’re coming, stop by the ClickEquations booth (#223) to say hi or shoot me a note ahead of time acohen @ clickequations . com
The biggest value you’ll get out of the conference is the networking and the war stories you swap with other attendees. You don’t have to wait until the conference starts, though. Everyone gets an invite to SMX Connect. I recommend that you find attendees you’d like to meet and flag them as “want to meet”. It makes it easier to have a good lunch conversation.
Speaking of lunch, you should definitely log into SMX Connect early to sign up for the Birds of a Feather lunches. They’re tables organized for people who want to talk about specific topics, e.g. Paid Search or SEO.
Let’s be honest, if you care about, say, local search, then you probably don’t want to eat lunch with a bunch of Twitter nerds. The BOAF lunches are an easy way to make sure you get to chat with folks who are interested in what you’re there to learn about. You can only sign up for them on SMX Connect and they always book up in advance.
Craig and I are both hosting a BOAF lunch on Tuesday (Day 1)
- Birds of a Feather Table 2: Paid Search – Craig Danuloff
- Birds of a Feather Table 8: Search & The Complex Sale – Me (Alex Cohen)
Pre-Conference – Monday 3/7
Monday is when most people arrive. That night is the SMX Meet & Greet from 6 – 7:30 in the 2nd Floor Ballroom Foyer of the San Jose Marriott.
The event is casual drinks. It’s worth going in particular if you want to meet certain speakers and veterans. They’re not swamped after a panel and the event is more intimate. Plus, you never know if you’ll get invited out to a dinner or more drinks with a good group.
Day 1 – Tuesday – 3/8
This is the first day of the conference. The sessions change every show, so I can’t use past experience to recommend certain session.
What I can say is that the value of the session has almost everything to do with who is presenting. A speaker who can convey actionable tips in an easy to follow way is worth seeking out. Here are some I’ve personally seen present and enjoyed at past conferences:
- Scott Brinker – President & CTO of Ion Interactive
- George Michie – CEO, Rimm-Kaufman Group
- David Roth – Director, Search Marketing, Yahoo!
- Frederick Vallaeys – Adwords Evangelist, Google
- Matt Van Wagner – President, Find Me Faster
- Marty Weintraub – President, aimClear
Day 1 is also when Craig and I are hosting our Birds of a Feather lunches (see above).
This is also only 1 of 2 days that the expo hall is open (it closes on Thursday, which people sometimes forget). Check out the list of exhibitors. I’ll be working the ClickEquations booth, #223.
At 6:00, you can get free drinks at the Cocktail Reception in the expo hall (they give tickets to you at registration). It’s a good chance to unwind and see some of the vendors before heading off to dinner. See the section below on how to make the most of the expo hall.
After the Cocktail Receptions, people will generally splinter off for a quick bite before heading to the Internet Marketer’s Charity Party (Agenda Lounge, 99 South 1st Street). It’s $50 to get in, but the money goes to 2 good causes, it’s open bar and there are a bunch of great prizes that are given away. I recommend it.
How To Explore the Expo Hall
Most conference attendees will never work in a trade show booth, but I have quite a number of times. Let me share a few tips on how to get the most out of the conversations you have there:
- The quietest times are, obviously, when the conference is in session. If there’s a time when there isn’t a session you want to attend (it happens), consider swinging through the Expo Hall then. You’ll get undivided attention.
- Make sure that you attend some of the Theater Presentations. Theater presentations are 20 slots where vendors can do a presentation on whatever they like. They’re like a conference within a conference.
As you may suspect, some can be overly commercial. Good vendors (like us!) make them educational, because no one wants to hear us talk about our admittedly awesome paid search software forever. You can always leave if you don’t like it and there is often a giveaway.
Check out our Theater presentations on Tuesday at 2:00 – 10 Ways to Improve Paid Search Campaigns. Craig Danuloff, our Founder & President, is presenting.
- A note on trade show giveaways (aka swag or tchotchkes). If you just want the free stuff and don’t have an intention of ever buying the product, just take it and enjoy. You don’t have to pretend to be interested. It’s better just to either not take it or politely ask for some and make way for folks who want to talk shop.
Also, be sensible! I once saw a woman take 15 stuffed monkeys from the shocked booth next to me. I felt sorry for that poor marketer’s budget.
- Not every vendor in the expo hall is a fit for every attendee. For example, the first question I always ask folks is how much they spend on paid search advertising every month. If the answer is “$1,000 a month”, I’ll honestly say that it’s not a fit and give them a white paper with tips on how to help grow that spend profitably. You and the vendors have limited time. Focus on the conversations where it’s a fit.
- Don’t forget your business cards! If for nothing else, you can enter raffles
Day 2 – Wednesday – 3/9
Assuming you didn’t go out after the IM Charity Party, there are plenty of good sessions in the morning. Here I’m going to give an admittedly biased plug for the two we’re on.
- 10:45 – Paid Search Testing and Reporting – Craig is on this panel, but it’s also moderated by Matt Van Wagner (who always does a great job of organizing) and Addie Connor, who is just plain awesome and brilliant.
- 1:30 – Search and The Complex Sale – I’m excited to present on this panel with a lot of folks I haven’t presented with before. Patricia Hursh is moderating and she’s a veteran of B2B panels. Sneak preview: I’ll be talking about how to use increase form registrations without losing contact information and how to use that effectively in managing your campaigns.
Note that the Expo Hall closes at 3:30 and they seriously mean it closes then. They literally start rolling up the carpets! It’s best to get there earlier in the day.
There are no dinner time events (though some vendors plan them), but the final networking event, SMX After Dark, is held at Motif (389 South 1st Street) starting at 9. It’s free, so most folks will be there enjoying the open bar.
Day 3 – Thursday, 3/10
A lot of people leave before the last day. Don’t. Most of the expense of going to a conference is in flight and hotel, so it’s best to get your money’s worth by hanging out for the third day.
The expo hall is closed and there are no events planned in the evening. I’ll be hanging around until Friday, so shoot me a note if you want to grab a bite and talk shop.
Bonus: Things I Often Forget to Pack!
I travel a decent amount for work and I’m kind of a forgetful guy. To keep my brain from failing, I’ve created a packing checklist to make sure I don’t miss anything critical. I listed some of the ones you might also forget.
In particular, remember to bring extra business cards. I’d say 1/2 don’t bring enough (50-100 is a good range). Why do you need chapstick, cough drops and gum? You’ll be talking to people in dry, air conditioned rooms and nobody likes to talk to the guy with bad breath.
- Business cards
- Cell phone charger
- Camera/video camera
- Sweater/hoodie (it gets cold in those conference rooms!)
- Business cards
- Boarding pass
- Cough drops