Conferences are an opportunity to attend presentations from leaders in your industry, network with other professionals, and bag some fantastic swag from vendors. But during the crush of breakout sessions and networking events it can be tough to focus your time and easy to come home feeling that you missed out on some key opportunities. Check out our tactics before you go to make sure you’re getting the most from the next conference you attend.
Be Strategic With Your Time And Money
The fastest way to throw away hundreds of dollars in conference fees is to register without reviewing the conference agenda first. Take a close look at the program. Is there more than one session which addresses the topic(s) you want to learn about? Especially if you’ve gone to the same conference a few years in a row, it’s a good idea to shop around for the right conference that will help you develop new skills and stay ahead of trends.
After you’ve registered, use the conference agenda to sketch out a schedule tailored to your professional development goals. If the conference has an app or other web portal where you can access presentation slides beforehand, take a look at the slides to help you decide which session will be most valuable. You might try a “deep-dive” approach by hitting every session on a particular topic, or you might go to a mix of sessions to broaden your knowledge base. When choosing which concurrent sessions to attend, it’s helpful to make a note of your first and second choices. If you realize within the first few minutes that the session you’re sitting in isn’t going where you thought it would, you’ll be able to quickly and discreetly leave and join your second-choice session.
There isn’t one right answer for picking breakout sessions. Some people like to skip a few concurrent sessions to work on reviewing notes from the previous session and come up with a plan for implementation at their organization. Pick the strategy that works best for your learning style and professional objectives.
Meet People And Make Connections
Attending a conference is a great way to meet new people in your industry and expand your network. Lots of conferences use Facebook event pages or apps like Guidebook to help attendees connect, so be on the lookout in the days before the conference for which platforms are available and keep track of the people you’d like to meet. Don’t be afraid of sending a direct message to a potential contact before the event with an invite to coffee at the conference hotel. Making plans before the event can save a lot of time and stress once you arrive.
Conferences can also be a good time to network within your own organization. If you find out that someone from another department will be in attendance who you haven’t worked with closely before, you might offer to split a cab to the airport and chat about what you’re hoping to learn at the conference. You could also offer to connect at the welcome breakfast; having a buddy will make facilitating introductions with new contacts easier and give you a chance to learn more about what other teams at your organization are working on.
Stay Energized And Make Time For Yourself
Conferences are exhausting. It’s easy to forget about self-care when you’re busy, but if you spend days pushing yourself to attend every breakfast, dinner, and after-hours networking reception, you’re going to burn out and not be at your best. When you’re reviewing the conference schedule and deciding which sessions to attend, also build some downtime into your schedule.
- Get enough sleep. Take note of when you can expect your day to realistically begin and end. If breakfast starts at 8:00am but the first breakout session doesn’t begin until 10:00am, you might want to get some extra rest and head down to the exhibit hall at 9:00am or 9:30am.
- Eat well. When you’re booking your travel and accommodations, take a quick look at restaurants in/near the airport and hotel to make sure you’ve got some healthy options nearby. Finding yourself in a food wasteland? Pack some healthy snacks to supplement the conference grub.
- Recharge your batteries. If you’re an introvert, rest assured you don’t have to attend every networking happy hour and dinner group. Balance social events with some quiet time in your room catching up on emails or reviewing notes from the last keynote session. It’ll help make sure you don’t get too overwhelmed.
Bring The Right Gear And Stay Organized
Business travel can be stressful with long days and lots of location-hopping. Avoid unnecessary stress by making sure you take care of these things before boarding the plane:
- Bring your phone and laptop chargers (and backups). Having your devices handy and fully charged with help you navigate the conference and also allow you to catch up on emails during downtime.
- Pack plenty of business cards. It’s better to have extras than to run out.
- Pack outfits that work. Bringing layers will save you from unnecessary shivering or sweating on those days when the hotel conference rooms are 40 degrees and the weather outside is 80 degrees.
- Bring a bag that’ll keep you organized. Have a system for collecting materials – e.g., session notes saved in a journal or digitally in Evernote; brochures and exhibitor materials in a large pouch in your bag; business cards in a card case or digitally captured in an app like CamCard. When you get home you’ll know exactly what you’ve collected and where to start following-up.
Conferences are an avalanche of information. Between breakout sessions and networking events you’ll come away with more notes, knowledge, brochures, key chains, business cards, and contacts than you previously thought possible. Make the most of your time, learn all that you can, and enjoy!