Preparing for, traveling to, and attending a conference can often be a challenge to even the most well-organized among us. A little bit of planning in advance, however, goes a long way to ensuring that you get the most value possible from your registration fee and the time you spend in sessions and walking the exhibition floor. Here are 10 tips to enhance your experience at any conference.
Do your homework
Don’t wait until you’ve arrived to start figuring out your conference agenda. Preparation is the most important aspect of attending a conference or tradeshow. Research where the event is, who will be speaking, what vendors will be there and if anyone in your network will be in attendance. Decide on which sessions you’ll attend in advance and make an effort to connect with relevant speakers and exhibitors on social media beforehand.
Little things like showing up with a wrinkled shirt or forgetting to bring your business cards can easily sour your conference experience. Before you pack, make a checklist with important items like nice walking shoes, your business cards, an umbrella, your phone charger, etc. so you won’t be scrambling to replace forgotten items after arrival. Missing a keynote because you need to run out to get band-aids or contact solution is not a position you want to be in.
Before you hand over your registration fee, figure out what you’re hoping to get out of attending a particular conference – be as specific as possible. Whether it’s connecting with a certain speaker, having meetings with at least 10 new prospects or expanding your LinkedIn connections, knowing what you want to accomplish will help you prioritize your time.
Read the conference program
Instead of ignoring it, page through the program. Even if you’ve already thoroughly checked out the conference website, the program is likely to include helpful information -- a map of the venue, info on discounts and giveaways from conference sponsors and suggestions for local attractions, for example -- that may not be available online.
Don’t take other work with you
Tempting as it is to bring projects in progress with you, you’ll get more out of your conference attendance if you focus 100% of your energy on the event. Worrying about what you have to do when you get back or even working during the conference will only distract you from potential networking opportunities.
Aim to connect with those in close proximity
When you settle in for a speaker, chances are someone is sitting on either side of you, so make an effort to introduce yourself before the presentation starts or during a break. You never know what opportunities could arise from a simple introduction.
Schedule some free time
Overscheduling is a great way to exhaust yourself – as anyone who has ever tried to see and do it all on a family vacation can attest. Block out time in your conference schedule each day where you can relax with a cup of coffee, network with some newfound friends or just put your feet up in your hotel room for a few minutes to recharge.
Every person you had a memorable conversation with should receive a personalized follow-up email. This is especially crucial if you were at the conference to identify sales prospects. Don’t forget to connect via LinkedIn with anyone you’d like to make room for in your network.
Review your notes
Of course you took notes on the sessions you attended and your overall thoughts, right? It’s now time to review them. Did you hear about a great new productivity tool that you're dying to try out? Jot down the name of a speaker's book you'd like to pick up? Get some tips for streamlining your own creative process? Go through your notes and pull out those action items you want to address now that you're back home.
Reflect on your goals
Take time to decompress after the conference and think about what you did successfully and what you might want to work on – better prep, more time for networking, remembering that contact solution, etc.-- for the next conference.