I’m going to the BBC Conference (Building Business Capability) next week and am really looking forward to the sessions, the exhibit hall, and networking with other professionals. I realize that I am fortunate to be able to attend several conferences each year, but I know many people are lucky if they get to go to one. If you are going the BBC or another conference, make the most of it. Here are some tips for preparing to attend a conference which will help you get the most value.
Think About Why You Want to Attend
Conferences have themes and areas of focus. Review them and think about your reasons for wanting to attend. Are you interested in learning about a new topic? Are you struggling with a problem on your current assignment and need to talk with other people who have faced the same situation? Ask others in your network about conferences they have attended. Not all conferences are of equal value; find the right one for you.
Volunteer to Present or Help Out
Months before a conference the organizers are looking for people to present sessions and help out with logistics. If your organization doesn’t pay for you to attend conferences, volunteering can often result in a free conference pass. Volunteering also results in you meeting and talking with other organizers and getting deeper awareness of the conference strengths.
Review the Conference Agenda Periodically
Conference organizers try to post their agenda as soon as possible but also update it frequently as the conference date approaches. Sessions sometimes are moved around, some speakers drop out and others are added. Make a note on your calendar to review the agenda about once a month and then the week before the conference. Highlight sessions to attend, speakers you want to meet, and vendors you want to visit so you don’t have to spend time during the conference deciding where to go next.
Make Travel Reservations to Extend Networking
If the conference you are attending is not in your community, you’ll need to make travel reservations. Staying in the conference hotel can save you time getting to conference sessions, giving you more time for networking. Many other attendees will be in the same hotel so you can plan meals with them to follow up on interesting topics. Conference organizers usually negotiate a discounted room rate for attendees but you need to reserve early to get these rooms.
If you are flying in, check flight time options and try to extend your time on the front and back of your trip; even an extra hour before or after the conference may be an opportunity to talk with a new acquaintance. I’ve had some great post-conference conversations at the airport gate, sitting with others who are on their way home and are debriefing about the conference.
Plan for Down Time
As an introvert, I get very tired when I am with other people all day. One of my conference strategies is to plan for some down time. As you review the agenda, look for openings where you might be able to squeeze in a workout or a walk outside. Conference centers have few windows so getting outside periodically gives your brain a rest and prepares you to learn more in the next session. Make sure you get enough rest before and during the conference. It is impossible for your brain to learn new things when it is sleep deprived.
At the Conference
Make an effort to talk to people during the conference. If you are shy or hesitant to talk with strangers look for others who are standing alone. They probably feel the same way and will welcome someone coming to them. Prepare a few open ended questions to get the conversation started like “How are you enjoying the conference?” or “Have you ever been to <city, state> before?” BE SURE to collect contact information from people who you would like to stay in touch with. A name and email address is all you need to follow up after the conference.
After the Conference
Take an hour after the conference to send a quick message to the people who you really enjoyed talking with. Connect with them on LinkedIn and send them links to articles you think they will find interesting. I have many contacts from conferences that I have maintained over the years. We may have only spent a few minutes talking together but we made a meaningful connection and have stayed in touch through social media. I hope to run into many of them again at another event.
Conference attendance is expensive. There is a conference fee, travel expenses and most importantly, your time. If you are going to use your most precious resource, your time, at a conference be sure to make it worth your while by having a plan.
If you are coming to the BBC stop by and say hello: RMC Learning Solutions booth number 203. See you there!