You’re attending a conference!
You’re all registered and excited for a day full of learning, networking, and of course…great swag. If you’re a regular conference attendee, than I’m sure you have plenty of tried and true strategies for getting the most out of your experience. But if you’re new or a little rusty we’ve got some great tips for attending conferences!
Before The Conference:
1) Review The Agenda
Before you arrive at the conference take some time to review the agenda and tenatively decide which break outs and workshops you’re going to attend. Conferences usually have more than one break-out session scheduled at the same time and reviewing them ahead of time will help ensure you get seated in a valuable and relevant topic for each breakout. Nothing is worse than leaving after a breakout has started when you realize it’s not relevant to you and there is something more interested happening in another room.
When choosing your sessions make sure and look at both the speaker and the session topic. You might find that a well known figure in your area is presenting on something that is less tactically relevant to your day to day. This presents a wonderful opportunity for you to ask questions of the presenter or chat with them right after the sesson.
2) Check Out Exhibitors
Exhibit halls and vendor booths are often viewed in one of two ways: 1. avoid at all costs because you aren’t in the market for new solutions or services or 2. visit every booth and collect all the cool swag you can. But in reality, visiting vendor booths can be really helpful in terms of keeping track of the latest technology and services in your space. It’s a great way to keep tabs on what is happening in the community (booth staff will usually tell you about the success similar nonprofits are having with their product) as well as find new ways to create efficiency and innovation in your day-to-day.
3) Be Prepared
Conferences can be intense, multi-day events that often require travel. Aleviate stress by making sure you bring all the right conference gear. Don’t leave home without the following:
- Laptop and Phone Chargers – you’ll be on your phone or laptop all day and charging stations can be hard to come by or super crowded when they are available. Pack your own charger and keep it with you at all times.
- Comfortable Shoes – you’ll be spending a lot of time on your feet and if the conference offers events you might be walking a bit. Make sure you choose footware that your feet with last all day in.
- Layered Clothing – conference venues can be hit or miss in terms of temperature control. Some rooms will be freezing and others will overheat. Make sure you plan a flexible wardrobe that allows you to add or remove layers as needed.
- Business Cards – make sure you have enough business cards for all those new connections!
4) Don’t Forget Your Out of Office Reply
I always seem to forget to set my out of office reply. Make sure you set this the night before the conference and direct folks to the right person while you are out so you aren’t interrupted by office email. This allows folks to at least be prepared for a longer than usual response time and gives you the freedome to focus on those great sessions.
At The Conference:
5) Check In Early
Don’t get stuck in the registration line while the keynote starts. Register as early as you can to ensure you are ready when the action starts. This also gives you time to stash away any swag bag so you don’t have to carry them around all day.
6) Get Social
Log into your social media accounts and create streams on any conference hashtags so you are ready with your tweetables. You might see some of your colleagues and professional connections as you start to engage on Twitter or Instagram. Social media is a great way to capture the most valuable nuggest from sessions and connect with others who you might know by avatar but haven’t yet met in person.
7) Stay Organized
Keep yourself organized with notes. You can use a free app like evernote for electronic notes and if you take notes the old fashioned way make sure you separate sessions with headers and create a separate task list to distill all the to do’s you think of during sessions.
Make sure you keep notes of who you met, how you met them, and what you talked about for easy reference later. You can use a mobile app like cam card or just jot notes on the back of business cards.
After The Conference:
8) Review Your Notes
Hopefully you were able to avoid getting too overwhelmed and managed to keep track of the things you learned, the new ideas you had, the cool new technologies and solutions you want to test out, and the tasks you thought of during the conference.
After you’ve decompressed a bit from the event, take some time to review your notes and to do’s. Revise your to do lists, make notes of new vendors and connections to follow up with, enter new prospects into your CRM, and review the content you found most helpful. If you review all of this while the event is still fresh in your mind you’ll have a better chance of really getting value out of what you learned and who you connected with.
9) Teach Your Colleagues
If you really learned some cool stuff at your conference, the best way to get real value from the information is to pass it on to your colleagues. Whether it’s simply drafting an email summary, sharing the slide decks, or gathering everyone for an in-person presentation of what you learned your team will benefit. New and different perspectives from your conference learnigns can spark even greater innovation and propel your team forward. Always make sure to share what you learned!
10) Follow Up
Once the conference is over everyone is tired and has a ton of eamil to catach up on. But the days immediately following a conference, when the event is still fresh, are the best time to follow-up with your new connections. Make sure to send personalized messages when you reach out via LinkedIn or email so you cut through the noise while everyone is working through piles of email.
Conferences are one of the best ways to keep up with the state of your space but they can be overwhelming and more work than they are worth if you don’t prepare ahead of time. These tips will help you make the most of your time.