Have you ever noticed that all of the conferences you want to attend happen at the same time? Well, there’s a reason for that. There are two major “conference seasons” each year – fall and spring. So, we are often faced with making the decision to attend one event over another. Which means that we need to make the most of the conferences we attend, even if you take the budget out of the question.
Conferences serve a valuable role in our professional development and education. They provide opportunities for networking with other professionals in our industry and profession. And let’s face it, conferences often allow us to visit fun places (like Las Vegas!) or hear celebrity speakers (like Rob Lowe!)
Our time at conferences is valuable. So the best way to justify our time away from the office and the expense of attending, is by making a plan. Here are 7 ways to prepare for a conference, so you are sure to accomplish your goals.
- Identify your goals. First things first, know why you’re going. What are you trying to accomplish? What does your manager want you to accomplish? Maybe your goal is to gather information that will help you to implement a new program. Or you could be doing research about a new process or trend that’s happening in your industry. Your goal should drive what you do during the conference.
- Plan your educational sessions. Andrea Descoteaux, assistant vice president of marketing promotions and development at Unum, suggests identifying sessions that align with your goals and enhance your development. “Select sessions with written descriptions and online reviews that peak your interest and benefit your growth. Also, consider leaving a couple of time slots open in case you get a recommendation from your peer group or other conference attendees.”
- Download the conference app. In an effort to reduce paper, many conferences are moving toward event apps. These apps usually have all of the speaker handouts, which is one reason to download them. You can review handouts of sessions you didn’t have time to attend. Also, the apps are becoming more sophisticated, with contests and interactive games to encourage participant networking.
- Network. Speaking of networking, find out if your conference has a “meet to eat” opportunity. It’s a great way to meet other attendees, especially when you’re attending a conference alone. Another networking opportunity is to look for vendor parties. It’s an opportunity to meet solution providers as well as attendees.
- Visit the expo hall. Here’s a little secret: in many cases, exhibitors and sponsors often underwrite huge portions of the conference. You can show your appreciation by spending time in the expo hall. But exposition halls can be overwhelming! Descoteaux recommends having a game plan of what you want to know from vendors. “When talking with exhibitors, start with an open ended question. Always ask, “What makes you different from the rest of the vendors in the hall?”
- Don’t let the food ruin your trip. Let’s face the reality that conferences are not a place for 5-star meals (unless of course, you’re going to a food conference.) We have to temper our expectations. That doesn’t mean we can’t find a local treasure. It also doesn’t mean that conferences won’t accommodate special diets. Make sure meeting organizers know your needs so they can plan in advance.
- Plan something fun! While conferences are a lot of work, it is possible to carve out some time for fun and relaxation. Make time to exercise during the event. See if the conference is offering morning yoga or a fun run for charity. See what events are taking place in the city – museums, parks, etc. are all ways to enjoy the conference location.
Conferences are an important part of our professional development. They educate us, open our minds to new thoughts and experiences. But they can be expensive and time-consuming. Having a plan will allow you to make the most of the time you’re away from the office.