Is your annual trade conference approaching? Annual conventions require a sacrifice of both time and money. Why not ensure you receive a healthy return on investment? Whether you are a career professional or a business owner, a supplier or regular member, applying strategy to attending events can pay off in business and career opportunities!

Set Appointments Before the Event

Does the event organizer publish a list of attendees? Perfect! If they don’t, check social media sites like Facebook to see if there is an event page where people are posting about attending. Check Twitter and Instagram to see if anyone is using the conference hashtag. Contact the attendees through social media or, even better, email. A cool trick for finding many professional’s email address online is going to google and searching for “<first name> <last name>” “*@<company” So, for me, you’d look up “Crystal Washington” “*” Easy.

Now, set one appointment per day of the conference. Use an actual calendar tool and send a meeting request to ensure the person you’re meeting with has the meeting on their calendar. Schedule a quick coffee, lunch, dinner or even a fun side activity. If you’re looking for fun side activities, try using the TripAdvisor or Google Trips app.

If you’re a supplier at the conference to network with potential clients, setting up side meetings is a no-brainer. However, even if you are attending strictly for education, you should take advantage of the opportunity to connect with old friends, influencers, and even competitors. You may want to change careers or companies one day and building your network now will enable you to already have connections in place.

Use the Conference Hashtag

Does the conference have a hashtag for social media? If so, do a search of it on Twitter and Instagram and start having conversations with fellow-attendees before the event. This is a great trick for shy people or introverts as it will allow you to build a tribe before you arrive. Even if it’s your first time, you’ll have friends already waiting for you when you arrive.

Scan Business Cards and Send LinkedIn Requests Each Night

Make a habit of scanning new business cards daily using a card scanning app and sending LinkedIn connection requests every single evening. This way, if there is anyone that you forget to follow-up with on an item discussed, you don’t run the risk of them forgetting you and thinking you’re a strange stalker when you resurface six months later. You can always point to the fact that you met at Conference X and you’re connected on LinkedIn.

Send Customized Cards Each Night

After you’re scanned business cards and send LinkedIn requests, you have one more very important action to take—send out customized cards! Some of my favorite apps and online tools for sending customized cards, in ascending order of expense, include TouchNote, SendOutCards, and Bond. Don’t send a generic card. If you took a picture with a contact or can grab a photo of something they referenced in a conversation, send that!