What I love about this industry is while “destination” events are still the two- to three-day excursions and offer a great chance to unplug, the mix of one-day topical events and ability to watch a lot on video help you be picky about what you attend.
If you are in NYC or San Francisco, you likely never need to leave town to hit most events you would ever need.
It’s still a challenge to know how to get the most out of events, which is why I’m using the term “life hacking.”
If your response to “Why are you attending the event?” is bucketed into these three statements, you likely need a better plan: “Learn new things;” “check out a few vendors” or “networking.” These are all viable answers, yet lack substance.
Consider these tips to help guide your thinking:
-- Pick events where you can unplug. If you find you can’t unplug for two days, then choose a few one-day events.
-- Don’t go to events where you are the smartest person in the room or think you are. Go with an open mind, and willingness to share as much as you ask.
-- Don’t be a Twitter freak. You’re there to learn, not promote every sound bite.
-- Do a little homework. Map the speakers and vendors you want to meet, reach out before the event a (LinkedIn etc.). You won’t get the most out of the event if you wait to decide what sessions you’re attending the day you get there.
-- Learn something you don’t need today.
I’m a big proponent of developing a learning plan. Develop a quick analysis of core areas that you feel are important for your career development or areas where you want to learn more. Maybe you’re new to email? Or just got responsibility for ecommerce/web or mobile? Or maybe you want to toy with Internet of Things?
I believe you can never really learn enough about device trends, personalization, mobile shifts, predictive analytics, consumer and generational trends or content strategies.
Here are a few conference hacks that might help:
-- Go back to paper, and turn off all electronics during presentations. Distracted learning will yield a 10% or less retention of the content.
-- Try speed dating with vendors. Some of the best insights will come from providers, but you need a method of getting to a point where value/interest align quickly. Look at it like speed dating. Meet 25, and you have three to five minutes with each and then move on. But have the questions nailed before you go.
-- Buy a Livescribe pen, which allows you to take notes, index them and go back to key sections without working so hard to capture the sound bites.
-- Use dinners for story-telling. Have fun, but try to get past what someone did to be successful and focus on how they handled challenges and risk. The most successful can articulate these ideas through stories.
-- Exercise. Organizing a walk or run is some of the most rewarding time you’ll ever get at events. The relationships you build, the conversations take on an entirely new meaning.
-- Journal each night. It’s critical that you sum up key points before you go to bed. Commit to a journal entry -- don’t wait till the flight home.
I can’t guide you on what events to attend; there are a ton that are valuable. I can’t guide you on who to talk to, as there are a ton of great companies and brilliant minds. Yet after being involved in hundreds if not thousands of events in my career, I firmly believe you need a plan for you and your teams.