You are off to a professional conference.
It is a big investment in time and money, likely both for you and your organization. And the days you spend there will likely be very different from your normal work day, so can’t run on autopilot with your normal routines and habits. You need conscious strategies to get the most from your conference experience.
I’ve been to conferences as a speaker, an exhibitor, and an attendee (in some cases, in all three roles at one conference). I’ve learned what works, and I’ve seen (and made) some of the mistakes you’ll want to avoid. What follows are some tips in three categories – before, during, and after the conference.
I’ve created them as tweet-length tips, so feel free to tweet them in connection with your next conference (if you do, please include my handle – @KevinEikenberry)
Before The Conference Begins
- Have goals before you arrive at the conference. What will success look like?
- Map out your session strategy before you arrive.
- Think about which exhibitors you want to meet upfront – have a plan!
- Have a plan and allow for serendipity, too.
- Engage with exhibitors based on your goals, not their giveaways.
While You are There
- Come to the conference rested, and get some rest while you are there – it is important and hard work!
- Wear comfortable shoes.
- Get some breakfast to be at your best.
- Sit with different people at every session and say hello.
- Make new friends, and share notes from different sessions.
- Find an accountability partner – to help you implement your ideas back at work.
- Meet the speakers that you admire (or that you love after hearing them).
- Invite a speaker you admire for coffee – they might say yes!
- The palest ink is better than the strongest memory. Take notes at your sessions
- Review your notes each night – and on the flight home.
- Build an action plan before you get home.
- Hear about a great speaker once you are onsite? Flex your plan to take advantage of your new intel.
- Ask people you meet – “What is the most valuable thing you have learned?”
- There are many distractions at conferences – stay purposeful.
- There will be lots of opportunities – remain open to new things and ideas.
- Make at least three new meaningful connections each day.
- Take plenty of business cards – give them all away!
- Get business cards from those you want to followup with – then you have the next step in your control.
- Refrain from much of your work while at the conference – the conference is your work.
- Turn off your phone and engage with the people, ideas, and opportunities around you.
- Be present – take in your learning with all of your senses.
- Going with a colleague? Divide and conquer – go to different sessions then share notes and ideas.
- Write one action item from every session you attend.
- Reconnect with old friends – but expand your network too!
- Connect people you meet to people who can help them.
- Ask people what you can do to help them.
- Learn something outside of the conference (do something in the city).
- Take a picture to remind you of important things you learn, or what you want to remember.
After You Return
- Teach someone else what you learned – it will solidify your learning.
- Take action on what you learned – if you don’t, value is greatly diminished.
- Be generous with what you learn – share it with others.
- If you write a blog, blog about what you learn at the conference.
This isn’t a complete list – but it is a good start. If you have additional suggestions, tweet them to me or include them in the comments below.
A final note: Next week I will be in Washington DC at the ASTD International Conference – if you will be there, come hear me speak on Sunday at noon, or come by our booth (#314). We’d love to see you.