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!