As part of my responsibilities as co-chair of the 2018 NFPW Conference, I wrote several articles promoting the conference. One of them was a list of 10 reasons to come to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where the conference is being held.
I should have also made a list of why it’s a good reason to attend a conference in person. Here’s my list:
Meet experts face-to-face. If the conference isn’t too large, there usually is time following a presentation to engage in conversation with the speaker and ask additional questions. Sometimes it’s about taking a photo with someone who has influenced or inspired you.
Last year, at the NFPW conference in Alabama, we heard from Rick Bragg. I have been reading his works for decades, first his articles in Southern Living and later his books. I was delighted to be photographed with him. At this year’s conference in Bethlehem, I’ll meet Shonali Burke. I’ve participated in her on-line trainings and have conversed with her several times digitally, but I’ve yet to meet her in person.
Discover new tools. I still remember the first time I heard the term, “blogging.” It was at a national communications conference, and I could not wrap my head around it. But an idea was planted, and I have now been blogging for a decade. This year, I’ll be learning about podcasting. I also enjoy vendor booths because I often discover tools that can simplify my life. Best of all, I can test them.
Be inspired in a new space. Sometimes at work I leave my desk and work for an hour or two in a conference room. I simply need a new perspective. Conferences provide an opportunity to learn in a new space and encourage fresh thinking and new ideas.
Cut through the clutter. I confess I am an information junkie. Sometimes it’s a challenge to find the time to sit through a webinar or listen to a podcast. And sifting through dozens of helpful links to find the most helpful is time-consuming. At conferences, speakers deliver the content I need to hear and share ideas that are often new to me. They also often remind me of the basics.
Hang out with your tribe. One of the benefits of a conference is being with like-minded individuals. These are people who want to learn and grow their skills. They also are people who understand the challenges you face. Not only can they commiserate, they can offer solutions from their first-hand experiences.
Network outside your comfort zone. As an introvert, I struggle with networking. Through the years, though, I’ve developed some tricks to increase my comfort. I don’t try to meet everyone at a conference. I do make a point to get to know the people sitting next to me or at my table. I learn about their profession and what we might have in common. I try to follow-up with the individuals once the conference has ended. I may share a book suggestion or provide them with notes from a session that I attended but they weren’t able to. I also try to chat with at least one vendor, too. Invariably I learn about a new product or service.
Invest in yourself. I almost didn’t include this one because it seems obvious. And yet, in many ways, it’s the most important reason to attend a conference. We all have things we can still learn, and we can continue to grow our skills. Attending a conference is an investment in yourself and your career.