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On Going to Industry Events: A Personal Account of the Good (and Bad)

11 February 2013 BY

State of Search covers a host of events across the globe and this week, we are showcasing our experiences of them.

What is it about SEO and social Industry Events? We hear about them almost daily, their numbers are always growing and it’s difficult to know what to go to, how to afford it and how to make the most out of it. Rather than give tips and thoughts, I’d thought I’d actually put forward my own personal experience of events and the impact they’ve had on my education, career and experiences.

Annabel’s Events Top Tip 1:

Looking stupid is temporary, gaining wisdom lasts forever. Ask, ask and ask some more!

I went to my first industry event back in 2005/6 when I was still very new to the digital marketing, search and SEO world. Twitter and Facebook were still start-ups being run out of bedrooms and instagram and vine were but twinkles in their makers eyes. My first event with SES London, and looking back on it, I wasted that opportunity! My employer generously paid for me to attend, I studiously took notes and felt inspired by a number of the presentations. It was the first time I saw Avinash Kaushik talk – any analytics lover will probably agree with me that it’s quite an eye opener for a junior, especially fresh out of uni and new to the industry. What I didn’t do was contribute or ask questions. I was scared, worried I’d look stupid and intimidated by everyone around me. It got me nowhere! These days, when that roving mic comes around – I’m jumping up and asking that stupid question that probably has a really obvious answer. Even if everyone else already knew it, at least I won’t be the only one in the dark that way!

(Bonus top tip: Always, always, always submit your site to any free ‘review’ opportunity being offered at events. It may get pulled apart in front of a few hundred people, but you’ll be a better business for it!)

Annabel’s Events Top Tip 2:

A friend in the phone book is worth 100 in the crowd. Get out there and say hi!

The other thing I still kick myself for not doing back then was networking, meeting, greeting, having a beer (or just a coffee) with anyone and everyone. I really enjoyed the different sessions, I spoke to a few people sitting next to me,  had some casual chats over lunch but when it came to the after-parties I didn’t know where to start. Again youth and a natural dislike of being in a spotlight may have contributed to this but that’s no excuse! One of the biggest, if not THE biggest value of any event is the experience and education you gain from speaking to others who have shared your experiences.

Unlike in everyday life, an event is 100% a networking opportunity. Don’t be afraid to walk up to the nearest person and ask them why they are there. What’s to lose?

Annabel’s Events Top Tip 3:

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. There’s more than just big, expensive conferences out there!

BrightonSEO

BrightonSEO

My next couple of event experiences didn’t come for another 3ish years. I learned a lot in that time, felt more confident in the work I was doing but hadn’t had the opportunity created for me again to get mingling. I moved jobs, was one search marketer among many developers and was feeling pretty lonely. I turned to social media and started commenting, asking, speaking and sharing with a host of people on Twitter. From there I begged and pleaded with my boss to allow me to go the best value conferences I could find. We came to an agreement that I would be allowed to go to a couple of smaller conferences if I reported back and gave a training session to the wider team. Done deal!

The bigger events such as SMX and SES were out of my league/budget but that’s a speed bump, not a barrier. In the UK for example, there are conferences like LAC – free to any affiliate, BrightonSEO – (crazily) totally free, or Think Visibility who are much smaller and much more affordable. In other countries, we aren’t quite so lucky but there are still opportunities – check out Meetup (why not start your own?), EventBrite or local niche email lists. Those small steps are a whole lot more valuable than spending a fortune going to a big event, only to come away with a lot of notes and no actions. There’s no such thing as ‘can’t’!

Annabel’s Events Top Tip 4:

Put a face to a name. Even if it takes a few faces to get there!

The advent of twitter and social media in general was a huge turning point in my career for me. It allowed me to connect with people from over the world and has led to genuine long-lasting friendships. It also led to me going to events all alone with only well-known and engaged with twitter handles for comfort. This in turn led to a number of mistaken identities (something the lovely Mr Pavlovich has not let me forget to this day) – but if you don’t walk up and ask, how will you know?! Going to events alone can be daunting, so be prepared. Get to know people – share, contribute, have an opinion. Being able to then meet them in real life is a whole lot easier if you already feel like you have formed some form of connection.

Look within your local area – don’t try to ‘befriend’ anyone and everyone who is a well-known name in an industry. It’s not about getting to know ‘the stars’, it’s about learning. Sharing experiences with those in a similar situation to you – geography, size of company, type of sites – is a million times more valuable than offering up regurgitated knowledge.

There is a lot of focus on ‘celebrity status’ within the search and social industry these days, and it can be overwhelming. If you speaking to people and going to events, just because you want to be a ‘big name’, are you really focusing on what matters? Are you really learning something?

Annabel’s Events Top Tip 5:

Now’s the time. Aim for the stars and make a plan to get there!

Events are a step away from the real world. It’s where everyone who could have an impact on your career has come together in one big room, a crowd seething with

Annabel at Think Visibility

Annabel at Think Visibility

potential and opportunity. Consider why you are at that event. Is it just to learn? Is it to gain a better understanding of the industry? Is to to become a bigger a part of the industry? How about getting a job? Here’s a few examples of things that have happened to me and to people I know to thanks to meetings at events:

- Freelance work offers galore

- A direct job request, followed by a job offer

- A request to speak at the next event, followed by a invitation to speak

- A request to guest blog on an industry blog, followed by an invitation to become a regular contributor (in fact, next month my 3rd  anniversary with State of Search!)

- A shared idea for a new site, followed by interest and offers of collaboration

- A shared idea followed by a lot of constructive criticism and the realisation that it may have harmed the site

- Immortality via Pick ‘n’ Mix!

Whatever your goals, that unique coming together of so many people who have the potential to help you is an opportunity that should never be wasted – no matter how big or small it may appear. As a part-time cynic, I think people can place too much emphasis on going to big, well-known events, only to then waste that money by not making the most of them. Events can be great, they are also not the be all and end all. Consider the networking opportunities, smaller events that are on around the time of bigger events, getting to know people on a personal level and what your interests genuinely are.

Image thanks go to Rusty Brick’s Flickr and the Screaming Frog Flickr!

It’s Event Week on State of Search!

It’s event week on State of Search this week! We are looking at everything around events, looking forward to SES London and helping you make the best choices you can make when it comes to attending, speaking or choosing your events.

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This week is sponsored by Marin Software

AUTHORED BY:
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Originally from the UK via France and Malaysia, Annabel Hodges is a digital marketer with long experience in the industry now residing in Sydney. She heads up the Digital Marketing at Next Commerce, working across an array of products, channels and brands.
  • Ryan Glass

    Annabel, thanks for the great post. I feel like you echo’d a number of my concerns early on, avoiding the spotlight, not wanting to look foolish, etc. Attending SearchLove in Boston last fall I had a great time and engaged with some very clever and talented folks, but I was also accompanied by an extremely extroverted colleague, and since then I’ve been wondering how much less I would have gained had I been on my own.

    • http://www.annabelhodges.com/ Annabel Hodges

      Thanks for your comment Ryan. I guess being intimidated by so many people, especially including all the stars and experts within the industry at a big conference is just very natural to a lot of us. I’d just be careful to end up also hiding behind that extrovert colleague so your own individual opinions and questions are lost in the mix. One great thing you are doing is commenting and offering your opinions online already – so if we were to meet at a conference in the future, that connection would already have begun. Sometimes us less extrovert people just need a little help. :)

  • Guest

    Thanks for your comment Ryan. I guess being intimidated by so many people, especially including all the stars and experts within the industry at a big conference is just very natural to a lot of us. I’d just be careful to end up also hiding behind that extrovert colleague so your own individual opinions and questions are lost in the mix. One great thing you are doing is commenting and offering your opinions online already – so if we were to meet at a conference in the future, that connection would already have begun. Sometimes us less extrovert people just need a little help. :)

  • Pingback: Organising an Event: It is Not Easy - State of Search

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