These days, it seems that there are conferences for every profession, hobby or interest. From Comic-Con to academic/professional conferences like NACE and SHRM, the acronym alphabet soup leaves no one out. There’s even a newer trend among conferences, called the “un-conference”. Un-conferences typically have less structure, more face-time (not thousands of people listening to one person on stage), and quite honestly, seem to be a lot more fun. The King of Unconferences in my book would be Mr. Bill Boorman. Check out his blog – I’m sure he’d love to speak with you regarding this concept! I’ve been to a fair share of both conferences and un-conferences over the past several years and would like to share my experience with you.
If you’re job seeking, exploring new opportunities, or simply looking to meet new people, conferences provide some great value if you approach them with the right mindset and expectations. From free to over $2,000 for some registrations, there’s a way to maximize your experience and return on investment. Here are my tips in no particular order:
Network your butt off. If you’re an introvert, this could be the most frightening thing you’ve ever experienced. Get out of your shell, meet people, and get to know them better. If you can, pair up with someone you know who has gone to the conference before. Ask them to introduce you to people to break the ice, and then take it from there. Remember, networking isn’t about YOU. It’s about what YOU can do for THEM.
Work can wait. Sure, we all get the emergency email or phone call that we must attend to, but what good is your conference attendance if you’re holed up in your room the entire time? Set your email’s out of office auto-reply to inform your clients that you’re out of pocket for the conference time. It’s okay to monitor throughout the day – there will be time. Just don’t get caught up in your work and forget why you’re at the conference. You are there to learn more about the industry and the people within that industry. Work is important. You are working at the conference. Sometimes 15-16 hours a day!
Don’t embarrass yourself. Have fun, but know when you’ve had too many free drinks. You’re representing not just yourself and YOUR brand, but also your company’s. Keep your goal in mind – making new contacts, learning, and building your network and credibility. It’s okay to have a glass of wine or other beverage at receptions. But, too many Jaeger bombs can really tarnish that reputation!
Do your homework. Check the event website before going. Map out what sessions you want to attend and be sure to get there early. In my book, “on time” is always too late. Make sure you get into the sessions you want. Know which sessions are the must attend (for you and your business) and which ones could be skipped. If possible, check to see if you can get an attendee list. Use that list to pick out who you really want to meet in person. Find them on LinkedIn and/or Twitter and let them know you’ll be attending the conference and would like to formally introduce yourself. You never know when you’ll run into someone and strike up a meaningful conversation and lose track of time.
Visit the exhibit hall. Here’s a tip – don’t just stop in to sign up for their free stuff. Yeah, it would be great to win an iPad, but is it worth getting several years of email spam and telephone marketing calls? Wouldn’t it make more sense if you actually wanted to receive that information? Think of the exhibit hall like a career fair. Know before you go. Plan your route and make it a point to engage in meaningful conversation where you stop. Don’t just stop by to play their game. Learn about the organization, their services and what they’re all about. If you have no interest, don’t stop by. I’m sure there are people who disagree with me here, but hey, that’s simply my opinion. 🙂
I’m sure there are more pointers on how to maximize a conference experience. Here’s a link to one from my good friend, Cindy Billington: 6 Musts When Attending Professional Conferences.
This isn’t just advice for professionals who are already in the industry or academia. These things can apply to everyone regarding any event. So, my main question to you is…
What are your tips for maximizing the conference experience?