5 Tips to Navigate a Conference Successfully

Back to school also means the kick-off of conference season. Whether you will be attending your first or your tenth, here are five tips I’ve picked up through the years, which I hope will help ensure that you get the most from your conference attendance.

Review the program. I’m old school and take a highlighter to the conference book after I check-in. I highlight the workshops I would like to attend. I review the presenter bios to see if there are individuals with whom I would like to connect. I also look for opportunities in the conference schedule for down time or time to connect with other attendees. Most conferences publish much of the details on their website so you can do some prep work from your office.

20170307_084141Bring the right tools. If you are old school, bring a fresh notebook, some pens (in case one runs out of ink) and a highlighter to mark key take-aways. I also bring an envelope or pouch, which I find handy for storing receipts, business cards and other relevant conference materials.

If you are all digital, be sure you bring the right power cords. If you are a heavy note taker, your device might run out of juice during the day so be prepared to find an outlet for charging or bring a back-up power supply. I also bring a mini multi-prong adapter for the room. I can plug in two devices and two USB cables. That way I can keep my mobile, Fitbit and laptop charged and not scramble for plugs.

Leverage social media. If there is a conference hashtag, follow the tweets to learn what others think about the speakers and topics. If a speaker mentions a resource, someone likely will tweet the resource and how to find it, which is always helpful. You can share your take-aways on Twitter or LinkedIn. You can also acknowledge great speakers, conference staff and hotel staff.

Take a nap. Conferences can be exhausting. Not to mention that most of us also are keeping up with our offices. Given that, sometimes it’s worth it to skip one session or a networking event to take a siesta. The downtime is the perfect way to recharge.

Network successfully. I am not talking about walking around and collecting business cards. I am talking about introducing yourself to a few people, and then asking them questions about what they do. If you make a connection, continue the conversation and find out if there is a way you might assist them. Sometimes, it’s as simple as sending them a link for a resource. Be sure to follow up.

Seek out additional resources from conferencess

As a lifelong learner, I appreciate what I learn at conferences. But sometimes the workshops only scratch the surface of a topic. That’s when I like to find books recommended or written by the speakers, who also often recommend great apps.

At the recent NFPW conference I heard about storytelling, branding and social media engagement. In researching the content and speakers, I came upon several books I hope to read (or maybe skim) when I return. Here’s my list:

The Hard Thing about Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horotwitz. Amazon notes, “A lot of people talk about how great it is to start a business, but only Ben Horowitz is brutally honest about how hard it is to run one.”

Powered by Humanity by Geoff Welch. This downloadable book is a collection of observations about leadership, service, and being human.

Social Media Engagement for Dummies by Aliza Sherman. Amazon notes, “From building trust to sparking conversation to using video and other tools, this creative book is a must read if you want to discover all that goes into the most important aspect of today’s social marketing.”

True Story: How to Combine Story and Action to Transform Your Business by Ty Montague. Amazon notes, “Your authentic brand must be evident in every action the organization undertakes. Today’s most successful businesses are storydoers.”

What books or resources have you discovered through conferences?

Have you done your post-conference homework?

You’re back from a week away from the office having attended a conference. Now you are busy catching up on everything you missed at the office. Don’t forget, though, to do your post-conference homework. Much happens at a conference, but much more can happen following a conference. Below are five homework assignments –

Have you done your homework following a conference? (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Have you done your homework following a conference? (Photo by Cynthia Price)

File business cards. I always connect with people I meet on conferences on LinkedIn. I also save their business cards, grouping all of the ones from a specific conference together with a sticky note. Sometimes I just can’t remember a person’s name, but I can remember where I met him. Then I simply grab my business cards from the conference and sort through them until I find the correct one.

Send thank yous. These can be an email, a tweet or a more formal note. If a speaker was particularly good, I always like to let her know how much I enjoyed the presentation. If specific hotel staff did an outstanding job, I let management know. If the conference met or exceeded my expectations, I send a short note of thanks to the organizers.

Read the books and articles. Most likely during the conference, speakers or attendees referenced books and articles. Ideally, you took note of them. Now it’s time to read them, or, at the least, skim them. I always return from conferences with at least two or three books I would like peruse. It often takes me six months to get to them, but I eventually do, and I’m always glad to have done so.

Review your action list. Conferences provide me with space, time and learning. The result is that I inevitably come up with several assignments I need to complete when I return to the office. Some turn out to be full-scale projects. Others are more about my personal development such as taking a class in editing videos on my phone. Whatever is on your action list now is the time to review it and mark the items on your calendar so you actually do them.

Share your learning. If what you learned at the conference is relevant to your colleagues, share it with them. You can do this in the form of a briefing memo or email. Better yet, schedule a lunch and learn where you can provide an update on what you learned, and they can ask questions or add to what you have learned.

5 Tips to Get the Most From a Conference

Business cards

Don’t just collect business cards. Follow up with the people you have met following the conference. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Bring Business Cards. A conference is a great opportunity to network. You will want to have 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 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.

Branch Out. When there are meals or networking opportunities, make an effort to sit with individuals with whom you don’t know. Speaking to strangers isn’t always easy, but at a conference you have a good opening for a conversation. Ask why they are attending and what they hope to gain from the conference. Share your reasons for being there.

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 if you need it.

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.