12 Way to Maximize Your Conference Experience
“In this world you are either growing, or dying…so get busy and get growing.” Lou Holtz
I think Coach would lend me some latitude and allow this, “in this world you are either learning or dying….”
Whether you are attending a networking event, a half or full day workshop, or traveling to a different city for an industry conference; budgeting time and dollars for personal and professional development will sustain you and open doors on your path to success.
As a business coach for women, I travel multiple times every year to conferences as a participant. Events where I get to BE….you know…the kind of event where you learn more about your industry, your craft or developing skills to grow your business?
If you are someone who doesn’t do this often, or perhaps it’s your first time heading to a conference, here are the top 12 things I’ve learned about getting ready to go, and once I get there:
Figure out why you registered. May seem kind of obvious, and yet for some people they really aren’t sure why they took out their credit card and paid the registration. If this is you, it’s totally ok, I get it and can assure you, you are not alone. Sometimes you feel called, or pulled to go – and so you just say “yes” – and have faith that you will find your why on the way.
Reflect on what skill set or mind set you want to work on in the next 90 days. You are more likely to apply and execute if you keep your focus on what you will go back and immediately implement Take an inventory – what’s working…what’s not….and determine 2 or 3 things you want to focus on. Remember what you want to focus on doesn’t have to just be about things that are broken. You may be looking to up level some aspect, and the event you are attending could give you that opportunity.
Do pre-event recon. From evaluating speakers and breakout sessions to vendors and other attendees, you can maximize your entire experience. Visit the website of the event, read up on the speaker(s), determine if there will be vendors you might need to connect with, and sometimes, you can even see a list of attendees by company. Gathering this kind of intel, allows you to be intentional with how you plan your experience.
Yes…I know there are some of you reading this saying, “yeah…and I like to just wing it…and let the right people and events appear.” Ok, I hear you…..I also believe that God and the Universe have presented this event and these people to you on your journey – give a nod to forces greater than yourself and become curious about what is being presented to you as an attendee.
Arrive early for the event or your sessions. Nothing is worse than getting stuck in traffic, not knowing where you are going, having broken elevators and missing the opening of something you’ve planned for. Plan to arrive 30 minutes before an event begins. Even if you sit in your car, wait in the lobby, catch up on email or make a new friend in the coffee shop, the reduced anxiety and additional gift of presence you give yourself is invaluable. Now you can settle in be completely engaged and ready to receive what you need.
Bring a notebook/notepad, a couple of great pens, a highlighter, post-it notes and plenty of business cards…you never know who you might meet who has been desperately searching for the products and services you provide.
Bring zip top sandwich bags and label them for each day of the event. After making your great connections, place their cards in the bag labeled for that day. On multi-day events it can be challenging to remember who you met on what day when you return home.
Follow up at the end of each day. I always send quick little emails to people I had great conversation with at the event each day. While you will still likely run into one another over the course of the conference, it sets you apart from many others with your attention to detail. If you said you’d follow up after the conference, indicate when you will do it and then schedule it on your calendar, perhaps even do a meeting request.
Find their social channels. In our social media driven world it is important to follow your new business connections on their social channels, and comment when you do. “Great to meet you today at the eWomenNetwork International Conference!” Use the appropriate hashtag from the event, for the social channel you are connecting.
Post pics of yourself and insights from the event on your blog or favorite social channels. It allows other conference attendees to find you and it lets your active tribe of subscribers and followers to learn from you from afar.
Bring snacks and be prepared to feed and water yourself. Whether you have special dietary requirements or have made lifestyle choices take it upon yourself to maintain your nutritional requirements and not place it on the conference planner. I always have protein bars and raw nuts with me and a large refillable water bottle. These things don't take up much room in your suitcase and can make a BIG impact on your overall demeanor. Don't let the hanger rise up! ;-)
Bring a light jacket, sweater or wrap. Conference temps are set to arctic. Once you fill a room with a few hundred or thousand attendees the temps will rise, and it still might be chilly for you. No matter how many times you tell the staff or conference planner you are cold, it likely won't result in them making an adjustment to the thermostat. Take care of your needs and be prepared. Dressing in layers is the way to go.
Introverts, and extroverts. Now, nobody go and get all bristly on me with what I’m about to say; it all comes from a place of love and support.
Introverts, you won’t get the most from any conference or event if you stay in your room, or off to the side. You must be willing to step into the conversation. You know you have it in you, and you do it with grace. Take little breaks if you need to center yourself and recharge. Go for a walk outside. Sit in the sun on a bench and close your eyes for a moment and then engage. Get plenty of sleep each night and stay hydrated. There are people seeking you at this event. BE present and let them find you.
Extroverts, conferences and events are like a drug to you! Your experience at an event could sound like The Flight of the Bumble Bee. Slow it down just a bit. Savor each moment and conversation. Be intentional with what you do and who you connect with. You won’t miss out on a thing!
Inclusion. Sometimes you attend an event and you don’t know anyone. Don’t be intimidated to walk up to a group of awesome attendees with their matching name tags and say, I’m here alone and wanted to say hello. If you are with a group and you notice a solo attendee or two sitting off to the side, go up and say hello and ask if they’d like to join you. Conferences are filled with great speakers and training. Some of the best learning though will come in the sharing of that experience with other attendees.
Smile. It is a universal signal of warmth. Your smile may be the thing that someone else needed to see to feel welcome AND it elevates your confidence too!
I’d love to know some of your favorite conference strategies!
Debbie Page Whitlock is a business coach and leading authority on cash flow for women entrepreneurs, and writes on all things related to creating sustainable, scalable and potentially salable businesses and other useful bits of business wisdom she’s acquired on her 20 year entrepreneurial odyssey.