How does an entrepreneur keep up with the cutting edge of their trade, become an industry leader or get to network with other industry professionals in a casual and fun atmosphere?

It seems so easy but often times heading out of town to a national industry conference may seem like taking too much time out of an already packed schedule. After all, we can all read the trade magazines, the latest best sellers and go to local or regional conferences with not much effort. But one might not recognize is that the rewards are phenonominal when going to a national conference related to ones’ industry.

I just returned from Atlanta and attending the national conference of the Emarketing Association ( . I want to keep on the cutting edge when consulting to my current and future clients who are building their businesses. And I hoped get some good tips or perhaps meet some great contacts.

In reality, there is no way that I could have learned as much by simply keeping up with the trades. I may have not been selected as next years’ Emcee. There is no way that I could have met the sharp and savvy speakers who were highlighted at the conference unless I had been there in person. The speakers came from all over the country and highlighted the most current and up to date information and statistics of what is working in online marketing for companies. Google sponsored the conference and hosted a cocktail party to show their latest additions. Coca Cola representatives spoke about keeping customers engaged with the website by their online awards program which keeps the customers coming back over and over. Danny Kastner, CEO of FanRocket out of LA, who was a contestant on The Apprentice, showed us creative, catchy videos that his clients and companies are using to drive traffic to their site to increase sales. He pointed out that entertainment is necessary to sell online, even if you’re selling weed killer! And Ken Lipscomb, CEO of shared pre-made commercials that companies can purchase from them at extremely affordable prices, tailor to their needs and have them on the air within minutes. He also shared with us how small to mid sized companies can increase their sales by a few million a year by adding unique TV advertising campaigns in their offices!

Hearing EMarketing Association founder Robert Fleming speak was a highlight. He shared the marketing profession is in a period of significant transition. The old rules are changing and now the messages we send have global implications. He feels that if U.S. businesses don’t keep up and lead the way, we’re at risk of losing our strong economy. He said it is our American duty to build strong businesses to keep our economy strong and that we are in a global commerce and we are going to have to work harder to keep up with the changes

All of these individuals are now professional associates and friends, because at conferences the advantage is getting the chance to hang out socially between the breaks or after the day is finished. Here are my tips to make the most of any conference:

1) Come in a day early well rested if possible. Hang out in the bar the night before the conference. Others from the conference will be doing the same and you’ll get a head start with meeting people. 2) Understand that most people are there solo or with one or two others so take advantage of that fact and meet everyone you can. Be the one who breaks the ice with others and people will be grateful. 3) Have your business cards ready to give out and a pen. Write what you spoke about on the back of their card and follow up when you return with a hand written note. 4) Ask questions to all of the speakers so they focus in on you and so does everyone in the audience. If you’re more familiar to others, it’ll be easier to meet others. 5) Meet each speaker up close and personal after they speak if possible. Trade cards and then bring value to them somehow when you write and follow up such as sending them information that might be helpful. 6) Introduce yourself to the conference chair from the moment you arrive and ask who he or she recommends you meet. That is the one person who knows everyone and can help you most. 7) Relax and have fun! The most successful people at conferences are the ones who are easy to talk with, who are open about sharing information and who are helpful to others. And of course, be careful not to booze it up too much even though the temptation is there because that’s the impression you’ll leave.

Technology is changing our businesses rapidly and if we don’t jump on board and learn as much as we can we will be left in the dust by our foreign friends. I learned that it is our DUTY to work hard for our economy and to be profitable. National conferences are a great place to advance ourselves and our businesses. Put it in the budget! And if you need an exciting and fun Emcee, call me!