Identify Your Goals Before you arrive at the conference spend some time reflecting on your professional goals for attending. Conferences are a great way to advance your professional objectives. You can build your network, find a mentor, advance your subject matter expertise, and develop new skills. From a personal standpoint, you could grow your personal brand or make connections with others.
Create a Checklist Before you head out the door, be sure you have everything you need. One way to do this is to create a checklist. You will want to take lots of business cards, notebook, pen and laptop or tablet. It’s also good to highlight the sessions you want to attend and make note of individuals with whom you want to connect.
Participate If this is your first conference, attend the orientation for new attendees and participate in any specific activities. At the NFPW conference, all first-timers wear a ribbon identifying them as such. Long-time attendees are encouraged to seek them out and answer questions they may have. If someone seeks you out, share what your goals are and learn about the hidden gems of that particular conference and how best to navigate it.
Venture Into New Territory Attend at least one workshop in an area that you are not familiar with as it might help you discover a new opportunity or at least make you conversant in the topic. Years ago, sitting in a workshop about blogging, I never expected to become a blogger. Yet that session sparked an interest for me.
Introduce Yourself and Bring Business Cards Set a goal of introducing yourself to at least three new people each day. Ask them why they are attending and what they hope to get from the conference. If they have attended for several years, ask them what their favorite part is. You will want to have plenty of business cards to distribute so when you meet someone they will have your name, title and contact details. When I receive someone’s business card, I jot a few notes on the card so I can remember our conversation when I return to my office. Also, if I’ve promised to send or share information I make a note of it so that I can do so. I also send LinkedIn requests so additional networking can occur online.
Review the conference schedule and highlight the workshops you plan to attend. (Photo by Cynthia Price)
Review the Schedule Before the conference begins take some time to review the schedule and speaker bios. Highlight the sessions that you want to attend and make sure that the title aligns with the session description so you aren’t disappointed. Make note of any speakers with whom you would like to have a conversation. I’ve switched sessions after reading a speaker’s bio and realizing they were speaking on a topic that would resonate with me.
Tweet If you are learning and networking, and find the conference of value, you can share highlights via social media. Be sure to use the conference hashtag. It’s a great way to connect with those who can’t attend and also to learn more. I’ve been at conferences where the speaker referenced a book but couldn’t recall the author. Within moments, someone in the audience had tweeted the information. You don’t want to tweet to the point that you aren’t paying attention but it forces you to think about the key point you would share – in 140 characters or less.
Build in Down Time. Conferences can be exhausting. Networking is hard work. Sleeping in a strange bed can be a challenge. Keeping up with the office creates challenges. While it’s admirable to want to attend every session and network to all hours, you also need to take care of yourself. Be sure to give yourself some down time or catch up on uninterrupted sleep.
Take Notes, Bring Conference Highlights Back Not everyone in your office is able to attend so you may want to focus on what you can take back and share with your colleagues. I’ve found that with really good conferences there is so much good information that I create a one- to two-page simple newsletter with highlights, which I then email to colleagues. Another way to share the information is to host a brown bag lunch once you return to your workplace. I also found fodder for my blog.
Schedule Follow-Up Following a conference, I’m always reengaged. I have great plans to meet with colleagues and continue the conversations. I schedule the lunches, coffees and phone calls within the first two weeks back; otherwise, I get too caught up in the minutia of my job. If I have follow-up assignments, I try to complete them within a week of returning, if possible. Following-up is a great way to strengthen your professional network.
As with any opportunity, what you get from it will be based on what you put into it. If you follow all (or some) of these tips, you will have a conference with a great opportunity for learning, connecting and having fun.