In the course of your career, you’ll likely have a chance to attend professional development conferences. These conferences offer a variety of opportunities to connect, learn and get inspired.
Attendance at a conference always represents a significant investment for an organization. How will you make the most of your time away from the office? How can you coach young staff to be discerning in how they participate in conference activities?
Here are a few things we have learned as conference attendees – and as conference speakers and exhibitors – to make the most of the experience:
Before the conference begins, make a list of what you are looking for. Share that list with your supervisor if appropriate. Review the conference brochure and chose your sessions based on your organization’s priorities. Take a look at the exhibitor and attendee lists to see if there are companies or individuals you specifically want to meet.
Divide and conquer
If more than one person from your organization is attending the conference, figure out who will attend which sessions and make a point to talk with other people at meals or social times. At the end of the day or on the way home from the conference, come back together to compare your notes and experiences.
Ask for help
Be ready to talk about your key questions or challenges. When networking with other attendees or vendors, ask if that person has experience with situations like yours. People like to be helpful and this can be a way to get the conversational ball rolling.
Prepare an icebreaker or two
A go-to question if you struggle with small talk is: “What do you hope to get from the conference?” Other good questions: “Are there any speakers/vendors that you recommend I check out while I’m here?” or “What has been the most useful thing you ever learned at a conference?”
Don’t eat alone
It’s tempting to use meal times to check your email or get a quick workout in, but the conversations you have during these times, plus the keynote speakers, often offer some of the most unexpected value of a conference. Use the opportunity to get know other attendees, using some of your icebreaker questions. Try to include the whole table if you can.
Make an effort to visit with the vendors; they are there to help you. Plus, if you want to get a sense of what it’s like to work with this company, the booth experience will give you clues as to what it would be like.
Teach what you learned
While it may be tempting to give a long report of all the things you saw and heard during the conference to your colleagues back home, it may be a more effective strategy to teach your team one key concept you learned. Bring it to life for your work and your mission, so that the whole team can benefit and put it into action.
We hope this list will help you make the most of your next conference experience. What would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments section below!