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If you are granted an opportunity by your employer to attend a conference, congratulations! It’s a gift, and you’ll want to make the most of it. (If you have to pay out of pocket, there are loads of ways to make that money back in triplicate. Read on.)
Conferences are a great way to learn from trendsetters and experts in your field, network with other people who do what you do, and implement great change in your company to better serve your clients, constituents or stakeholders. Obviously, familiar advice like “bring plenty of business cards!” goes nearly without saying. Even unemployed job seekers can create a great makeshift business card for minimal cost on VistaPrint.com. (Just leave the back blank so you can take lots of notes about the conversation.)
Here are just a few ideas for getting the most out of your next conference, beyond the ol’ “bring your business cards” advice.
Before the Conference
Set it and Forget it!
While away at your conference, set things at home on autopilot. Go through the motions to anticipate any challenges that might require your assistance. Create email away settings. Delegate your work to people you trust.
Study the Agenda Like it’s Your Job
If you are employed, study that conference agenda from the perspective of organization leadership and ask yourself: “how can I add value when I return?” If you are a job seeker, consider how you can turn your learnings into a white paper or a blog post or a series of tweets.
Lend a Helping Hand
Must do! Make a call to the conference organizer, or review the conference website for information on volunteering. Ask what you can do to help before, during and/or after the conference. (Bonus: volunteers can get comped part of a conference ticket. Not too shabby.) You can assist with orientation, help out with speaker introduction, lend a hand during setup or breakdown, or act as a floater. Be seen to get noticed!
Bring Your Cloak of Invisibility
As hard it may be to turn off your phone, while you are in sessions, it’s an absolute must. Fight that tempting email gremlin. Your temptation to check every “ping!” may impede your ability to maximize speaker take-aways! Your emails will be there when your session is over, so be mindful and present in each session to get the most out of each speaker. Keep in mind: speakers want to make connections, too. They want to get to know you and know that you are present and engaged!
Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
Pick sessions that are relevant to your company and that will leave you inspired. It’s easy to pick something that you are comfortable with, but there is a chance that you’ll get bored and check out. Attending sessions that may challenge you to learn something new will benefit both you and your organization.
During the Conference
Follow the Leader…or at Least Your Leader
In honor of #NationalMentorMonth, use the conference as a way to develop a relationship with a future mentor. This could be someone you admire in your field, or just someone you meet while you’re there. Having a mentor can benefit you a great deal, as it will enable you to expand your network and learn more about your industry, all from the lens of an experienced insider.
Highlight the Greatest Hits
You will undoubtedly hear a lot of great things at conferences. Overwhelm happens. A lot! It is easy to become overwhelmed by all of this meaty information, so just narrow down your notes into 1-3 great take-aways / action items from each speaker and put those into a summary of the conference.
Get Your Networking Game Face On
You may be tired after a day of presentations, but don’t bail on the evening networking events. Even if you only stay a short while, mingle with other professionals, have a drink and unwind, and bring your business cards (oops, did we just remind you again!?)! So, don’t make non-work plans for the evenings. You will likely want to be included in that last minute outing to the hot new restaurant across the street.
After the Conference
Plan Your Execution
Once the conference is over, your mind will be swirling with great ideas and concepts. Just assume you cannot get them all done immediately, and go easy on yourself. Synthesize that list of action items that resulted from each session and ADD follow up action items to your calendar: that way, you’ll know it will get done.
Cultivate Your Relationships
You collected business cards for a reason: to make new connections! Send along a quick email to your new contacts saying what a pleasure it was to meet them, and that you’re looking forward to being able to help one another in the future. Reference something you spoke about and refer back to the notes on the back of your business cards. Lastly, take an interest in what is important to them to really cultivate and nurture these budding relationships.
Now, go get ’em, conference rock star!