How to make the most out of attending professional conferences
Attending a professional conference can really boost your career. It’s an opportunity to make new contacts, learn some new skills and gain insight into industry trends. However, it can be overwhelming when there are so many sessions, speakers, activities and events. So how do you make the most of the experience?
Here’s what you need to know:
Before you go:
- Do a little research about the conference. Review the sessions to see what content is available and which sessions you might like to attend.
- Consider participating by being a committee volunteer or assisting with an event. Contact the organizer and ask what they need. You’ll be much more visible if you take a role in the conference.
- Read about the speakers and look them up on LinkedIn. Is there someone you’d particularly like to meet? Develop some questions you can ask at the session to engage directly with him/her.
- Make a list of attendees you’d like to connect with at the conference and invite them to meet for coffee or drinks while you’re there. They could be contacts you already have and want to nurture, or new people in your area of expertise.
- Check out the list of social events where you can mingle and engage with others in an informal setting. Be sure you have the appropriate clothing for the venue.
- If this is a large conference, there may be a specific “conference app.” If so, learn how to use it to your advantage to meet other attendees and get contact info.
At the Conference:
- If this is your first conference, be sure to attend the “first-timers briefing.” It’s worth building this into your schedule so you get the scoop on how things work as well as to meet other “newbies” who are looking to build relationships.
- Sign up for the right sessions. Be sure to get some variety and attend at least one session about a topic that’s new to you. If you find yourself in a session that isn’t what you thought, don’t be afraid to skip out and move to another – use your time wisely.
- Ask questions. The speakers appreciate an interactive audience, so feel free to stay after to chat personally with the presenter. Get his/her card and add them to your list of resources.
- Be sure to make time for the social events. It’s a great opportunity to connect and get to know some attendees on a more personal level. Whatever you do, it’s best to limit yourself to one or two drinks. This isn’t the time to party.
- Don’t make “non-work” plans for the evening. You want to be available for that last-minute opportunity to go to dinner or an event.
- Put away your smartphone. No matter how many emails are piling up while you’re away, you need to be present and personable as well as approachable. Having your nose in your phone is a put-off. Check your emails in your room, later.
- Take notes in the session. Try to come away with 3 main points that you can share back at work with your team. Your boss will appreciate that you’re sharing what you learned and be more likely to send you again if you’re spreading the knowledge when you get back.
- Also take a few notes about who you meet and what you discussed. Jot down a few things on the back of a business card, or make a note after you’ve moved on from your conversation. This will help you remember what you talked about when you reach out later.
- Bring a few snacks in your purse or briefcase. Sessions may overlap or you may be engaged in a productive conversation and not have time for lunch. If you’re starving, you can discreetly snack during a session.
- Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be doing a lot of standing around and you may even have to stand for an overbooked session. If the venue is huge, you’ll be walking a lot from your room to the conference and to meals.
Back at Work:
- Follow up with everyone you met and begin to nurture those relationships. Mention something you talked about and keep in touch for the next conference.
- Share what you learned with your team. That way, everyone gains from your experience. Send out any videos and share any new skills.
- Keep your conference program. It’s essentially a directory of the experts who spoke and the topic discussed. It could be a future reference when you need a speaker or are developing a new project.
- Consider future conferences that will help you advance your career goals. There are plenty of hospitality conferences going on all year long that cover all aspects of the industry. Keep your eyes open for another opportunity to grow and learn.