Maximize Your Conference Experience - Don't Just Show Up!

How do you get the most out of a conference?  That's a simple question, but one that too many people tend to overlook because we’re all busy and simply just show up. I spent the last few days at two different conferences, and I was continually amazed at attendees’ lack of preparation. You need to work to make conferences fruitful from a personal perspective.

A conference is a chance for you to dramatically improve your understanding of a topic by gathering input and speaking to people with a similar set of interests, but different points of view — like being dropped into an intensive language-learning environment, one you have to be both mentally and physically prepared for.

First, get your sleep ahead of time, because you’ll need it.  You’ll spend 12 hours a day talking to people, with few chances to regroup and catch your thoughts. Without enough sleep, you can easily be overwhelmed.

Second, since you’ll rarely have time to organize your thoughts, be sure to take a lot of notes.  What I do is send myself lots of little emails and notes, then transcribe them later so I get the most out of each interaction and can connect the dots. What you’ll find is you can identify trends from conversations, which will help you formulate some important points!



Also, have a number of questions already prepared for when you speak with people.   You likely know the majority of trends that are shaping your business.   Every interaction you have with others is a chance to give or take knowledge — and if you want those interactions to be positive, you should find a proper balance for both.  Have opinions and insights that you’ve formulated in advance, and have specific questions you’re looking to ask to gather additional insights.

One more prep item: Know what you expect to get out of the conference to guide your interactions. Is it networking, to improve your value?  Are you looking for information on an area of business you know little about?  Are you looking for a job?  All of these are legitimate reasons to be attending an industry conference.

My last recommended prep item: Have a plan, but be willing to be flexible.   Take a look at the agenda and know where you need to be at what time, but realize that recommendations will come your way you may want to follow instead. This is extremely applicable at bigger events like Advertising Week and Cannes, where half the fun and value in attending is knowing things are fluid and likely to change.  

If you do all of these things, your conference experience will be significantly more successful – I promise!

1 comment about "Maximize Your Conference Experience - Don't Just Show Up!".
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  1. Deg Farrelly from Arizona State University, October 28, 2015 at 8:52 p.m.

    All good advice.  I would add a couple more:

    1) Get out of your comfort zone.  If you have come with colleagues from your work place, break from the pack (at least part of the time), speak to people you don't know, sit at a table with strangers.

    2) Ask questions.  If there is the opportunity to ask questions at the end of a session, rise to the challenge.  If you have a question, likely others have the same question.

    3) Have some fun.... don't spend all the time cramming in sessions, presentations, exhibits.  Take the chance to enjoy the change of pace.  Meet up with colleagues you only get to see at the conference (This does not contradict #1, necessarily).  

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