Updated: Nov 2, 2019
Earlier this month I travelled to Lisbon for my first experience of the largest tech conference WebSummit. Attracting 70,000 attendees from 170 countries around the world, it had 4 huge exhibition areas with stands, workshops, side conferences, mentor lounges, plus the main centre stage. It felt as close to a rock festival as a tech conference can get!
But where to start? It is quite an investment for your business to go to a conference like this, so you will want to try and do everything to make you feel that you maximise your investment. If you're not careful this can just lead to burn out and sore feet if you don't plan wisely.
In the first section I’ve written some practical tips to help you make the most of your trip to Lisbon whether it's for WebSummit for just to visit. In the second section you might find these networking tips handy for any conference you attend. And in the third section are some of the key takeaways I learnt from the seminars and talks at the conference which are useful for anyone with any kind of business of any size, not just for tech.
This was my first trip to Lisbon, so here are some tips and tricks I learnt through the week that I think would help you.
Find an AirBnB near the summit or in the city centre and book as early as you can. I booked quite late and ended up with an apartment directly in the flight path as planes were landing at Lisbon airport. Not ideal when you've been busy all day at the summit.
Don't follow the crowd! This is a useful trick to use anywhere. Choose the queues on the left, they tend to be much shorter and move a lot quicker. This is true of airport security, immigration, entrance queues, theme parks, shopping etc. This theory was quickly proved right as soon as we got off the plane. The crowd automatically went to the long immigration queues, rather than spotting the completely empty electronic passport queue on the left. So me and some others who I had been chatting with on the plane, stopped following the crowd and saved ourselves loads of wasted time. This was also true when getting into the conference in the morning.
When you arrive at Lisbon Airport there are lots of useful volunteers from WebSummit pointing you in the right direction. Make sure you register at the airport to avoid the queues later at the conference centre.
The easiest way to get around was by using the metro. There was a special offer at the airport for 3 day travel passes for WebSummit attendees, which I wished I bought as I used it so much. If you choose to just pay as you go you first buy a rechargeable card from the ticket machine in the metro station which costs €0.50. There are no return fares, it costs €1.45 for each journey. Find out more about the transport pass options here.
Between the metro station and the conference centre is a shopping centre which has a food court, this is where a lot of people end up grabbing a coffee or food here, the queues are a lot shorter than those inside the venue! There is also a supermarket on the ground floor where you can pick up some snacks and supplies to take back to your AirBnB.
Keep hydrated! Bring a water bottle, or grab one of the free ones if you're lucky.
The local coffee shops don't really do take away coffee, except for Starbucks (which was nice to see there weren't that many of them around) as the culture is more about sitting in and chatting with friends, not rushing away. The Hot Chocolate is amazing, thick and dark similar to Spanish hot chocolate. Hot chocolate back home now sucks by comparison.
Inside the venue there is free take away coffee available. The best one I had were the lattes from the Women In Tech lounge, you will have to queue but it's worth the wait. After 4pm they also serve free wine and prosecco. If you know me well enough, you’ll know I was first in line for that queue ;)
Build in time to look around Lisbon. There are lots of beautiful places to explore in the city centre as well as Belém or Sintra.
Pastel de Nata almost need a whole post of their own as they are so good! They are the traditional pastries of the region with 9 million being made and eaten every year! They are like creme brûlée tarts in pastry. Best eaten while still warm with cinnamon and/or icing sugar on top. You can get these almost every coffee shop or bakery, even Starbucks for between €1-2.
Give yourself some time to relax and recharge. It is very full on, so find time to go for a walk down by the river front, go to a park, get in the queue early for the headspace mediation pod or the yoga class at the Google stand.
These tips are useful for almost all conferences I have attended. Networking is really important, especially when you are starting a business, but it can be rather daunting especially if you are naturally shy.
In addition to the organised after parties at NightSummit, there are lots of side events and meet ups throughout the city on the week of WebSummit, which are great opportunities to meet other like-mined entrepreneurs. You can find them on Eventbrite, Facebook or MeetUp.
You will see lots of people with wristbands (yes it's like the tech version of Glastonbury), use this as an opener to talk to strangers people, in queues, on the metro, wherever. I got a meeting with the Innovation Team from Clydesdale bank from just chatting on the plane on the way to Lisbon, and spoke to investors while in the line for the loo (yep really!) So always be prepared to pitch.
Even if you don't have an appointment, head to the mentor lounges and ask if there is any free spaces or if someone hasn't shown up. You might just get lucky and get to have a 15min chat with someone who can help you move your business forward. Take any opportunity whenever you can.
Have a plan. Download the WebSummit app and check out the schedule of all the talks you want to see and send messages on LinkedIn to any potential contacts you know are going or use the app to connect people you would like to arrange meetings with.
When you are at the conference you are able to scan the name tags of the people you meet which then gets saved into your contacts in the WebSummit app. Although if the WiFi or the app isn't cooperating it's good to use LinkedIn as a back up. Did you know you can share the QR code of your LinkedIn profile? This makes it easier and quicker to make contacts throughout the conference. If all else fails take a photo of the lanyard and look it up later.
Follow your new contacts on Twitter and LinkedIn and keep building on the relationships. Help connect them with people you know that could help them and write a personalised message when you invite them on LinkedIn about where you met, what you talked about or what introductions you were going to make. This will help you remember them more easily later, as you will be meeting A LOT of people and it is easy to forget or get mixed up.
Don't kid yourself that you can continue business as normal while you're at a conference. You won't have time to other business stuff while your at the Summit and you'll be shattered after the very full days at the conference, so make sure you reschedule clients or Skype meetings and get any time sensitive work done in advance.
Don't waste your time on talks or seminars that aren't living up to expectations If a talk isn't as good as you had hoped for, repeating stuff you already know or just sounds like a sales pitch, try to slip out quietly. Don't worry about it here as there are so many people coming and going all the time for meetings etc so it won't be considered rude, but aim to sit at the sides or near the back for easy escape routes.
Wear flats and have blister plasters at the ready! You are going to walk a lot! I had to wear my flight compression socks to survive the week. At a previous conference I had to wear hotel slippers because my feet swelled up so much! Comfort is more important than style so that you can keep going. Leave the heels at home, they are not worth even bringing and wasting space in your luggage.
Key Takeaways from WebSummit
There were so many great talks, it was impossible to see them all. But luckily most of them are on YouTube here's the link so you can pick the ones that you're most interested in. Here are the most useful tips that any business can implement straightaway to make a positive impact on their business.
Get personal with your customers. Personalise your content, emails, websites, chatbots etc to make your customers feel special. This works much better than discounts. People want to feel valued rather than just another number.
Build your website to look and work great on mobile and desktop, and make sure apps work on both iOS and Android. Just focusing on one platform isn't going to work.
Mix both paid ads and organic content. The benefits of organic content helps your business in the long term, but paid ads helps to get visibility early and help you build momentum.
Focus on building Expertise, Quality and Trust. This will improve your Google ranking as well as attracting the right customers.
Answer your customers questions. Create content answering your customers most common questions and the best answers get the coveted '0' position in the Google search.
Think about what your customer is trying to get done by coming to your business and how can you help them achieve this quicker or better than your competitors.
Google is your first impression, so make it count! Make sure your description is optimised, the business details are up to date, links are all working, good reviews from your dream customers etc.
Your company culture is more important than skill set. Hire people that are aligned and passionate about your mission and goals. Skills can be learnt, passion can't.
Don't ignore negative feedback. Contact and reply to all the bad reviews, no matter how long ago they were made. Be curious and ask how you could improve. You'll get useful insights that can make a really big difference to your business.
Doing nothing is your biggest competitor. You have to be at least 10 times better for customers to even begin to think of changing. We are hardwired to be skeptical of new things. Our brains think new means unsafe, so until you can prove you are not a risk you will struggle to convince people to change their habits. It doesn't matter if you think you are 10 times better than the alternative (of course you do!) it only matters if your customers think your solutions are worth the effort and the risk!
I hope you found these tips useful for your next networking event and for planning your business next year. Do you have any tips to add to make the most of business events? I would love to hear them below in the comments.
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