We all know the benefits of attending a conference. They include learning about innovative approaches and ideas, expanding your contacts and gaining insight from looking at your work outside of your daily environment.
So how can you make the most of a conference?
Tools Most of us rely on electronic devices so be sure you have your chargers and backup batteries. I often travel with a small multi-pronged extension cord because if I am charging multiple devices, there are never enough outlets. I also travel with my own mobile hotspot. According to Benchmark Resorts and Hotels 2014 list of trends, most conference attendees bring three mobile devices to conferences. While technology is powerful, you also will want to go old-school. A highlighter is great for marking the conference program with sessions you want to attend. A notebook and pen come in handy when you discover you forgot to charge your laptop or tablet.
Introductions You will be introducing yourself countless times throughout the conference. Instead of only stating your name and job title, tell the person something interesting about yourself. Think of this as a twist on the elevator speech.
Business cards Once you have made the introduction, you most likely will exchange business cards. In no time at all, you have them scattered everywhere – in your program book, your pocket and your computer bag. I like to immediately connect with the person on LinkedIn so I have their contacts readily available. I still hold onto the business card, making a note on the back where I met them and what we discussed. After a conference, I clip together all the business cards from that conference. That way if I forget a person’s name, I can sort through the business cards to help me remember. (For another tip on remembering names, read my post on “The Modern Rolodex.”)
Mingle At break time, don’t check your emails. Instead, introduce yourself to your colleagues. I did this at a recent conference. I turned around and said, “I’m going to interrupt you on your device so we can network.” He laughed and we had a good conversation. And, it turns out he used to work with my new top boss so I also got some great tips. If you aren’t sure how to start the conversation, ask the person what they thought about the last speaker and the topic.
Leverage social media If there is a conference hashtag follow the tweets to learn what others think about the speakers and topics. Share your take-aways on Twitter, too. At the end of the day, share some highlights by posting to LinkedIn. If there are sponsors, and it’s appropriate, acknowledge them through social media. Social media is also a great way to acknowledge conference organizers and hotel staff.
Debrief During conferences I make lists of people with whom I want to follow-up. I make lists of books I should read and websites I should visit. I make lists of things I need to do when I return to the office. And I learn a lot. Once back at the office, I use the first morning to pull everything together. I make one master list that for the next few weeks I use to ensure I’m completing my action items from the conference. I also review my notes and create a way to share my take-aways with my colleagues. This can take the form of an electronic newsletter, a PowerPoint or a detailed email.