How to Get the Most from a Conference
Mon, 06/09/2014 - 11:28am | by Helen Hoart
It’s that time of year again when conferences are starting to populate the business calendar. Conferences can be great educational and networking tools but to get the most from them requires planning.
Before you leave for the conference set goals. Be specific. Goals can include things like going to specific sessions to improve your skills, meeting with vendors, or meetings with other conference attendees.
Make sure you review the agenda completely before the start of the meeting and pick the sessions you want to attend. Remember though, if you are attending a session and it’s a dud, you can leave and find a session that’s better. It may feel rude to get up and walk out while someone is presenting but you’re paying money and have a right to get the most you can from each session.
Review the attendee list when it’s available highlighting the people you want to meet. Contact them ahead of time and set a definite time and place to meet. By making specific plans (date, time, place) you insure your meeting will take place. Setting up appointments with people ahead of time is especially valuable if you’re introverted but it’s a good practice for everyone to follow.
Don’t forget your business cards. Bring an ample supply. I’m always amazed at how many business cards I exchange. Keep a supply of cards handy by putting them into the plastic case behind your name badge. I particularly appreciate when conference organizers have Custom Lanyards for the name badges. The lanyards are easier to wear and easier to see others’ names.
When you exchange business cards, make a note on the card about the person and your conversation as soon as it’s feasible. And remember conferences are all about networking.
When I attend sessions, I always mark anything that is an action item with an asterisk as I take notes. As soon as I return home (or sometimes on my way home on the plane or train) I go through my notes and make a separate list of the items I have asterisked. I also block out conference follow-up time on my calendar on returning to the office. That way I make sure I can put into practice what I learned at the conference. I also share my conference notes with my colleagues and hold a brown bag lunch to discuss what I’ve learned.
Dress in layers. Conference centers and conference hotels tend to be cold. I always have a shawl with me. If I don’t need it I stuff it my bag. But I know I can’t concentrate if I’m freezing. It’s also important to dress comfortably but professionally. Every group has its accepted norm for dress—ranging from jeans to suits. Get a sense ahead of time what is acceptable. If I’m unsure, I always opt to be on the more formal than less formal side.
Finally, be nice to yourself while you’re at the conference. Try to get some exercise every day. Take a short nap before a dinner meeting and drink plenty of water. (Conference facilities tend to be dry and you can easily become dehydrated.)
Conferences are great opportunities to expand your professional horizons. With some planning they can be even more rewarding.