Conferences are a big investment for all of those involved. You (the attendee), your employer who may be footing the bill, the speaker’s who have prepared talks and workshops, the conference organizers, and all of the other attendees. Conferences often last several days, all time that you’re taking away from your regular job duties. Not only are conferences time investments, they can also be fairly large monetary investments. If the conference is in another city, you’ll need to travel there and stay in a hotel. Conference registration fees can be downright outrageous. And don’t forget any incidentals that you incur along the way. With such a big investment, it’s important to make the most out of a conference.
This past week, I traveled to the IA Summit in Baltimore, MD. A lover of conferences, I want to share with you some tips and tricks that I typically employ in order to make the most out of a conference.
Prepare in advance
Most conferences post their program on their website prior to the big event. Take the time before the conference to identify talks that you will find interesting. If you’re not familiar with the speakers, take time to research them. Thought leaders often attend and present at conferences, so it’s always a good idea to have a sense for who those people are and what talks they are giving.
Go to a variety of talks
Talks and presentations are the bread and butter of conferences. The point of going to them is to learn new things and see a new perspective. Throughout a conference, you’ll typically find that there are a few different kinds of presentations: those that can help you in your job today, those that can help you in your job tomorrow, and those that give you a broader understanding or knowledge of your field. When deciding what to attend, I try to find a good balance between these three types of talks. On one hand, you want to be able to do your day-to-day tasks better, but on the other hand, you want to learn new ways of thinking and approaching tasks.
Talk with people
There are few places where it’s totally acceptable (and even expected!) that you’ll go up and talk to a complete stranger. Conferences are one of those places. Conferences are highly social and a great place to nerd out with people who are interested in the same things as you. Remember how I mentioned that thought leaders go to conferences? You can actually meet the people who are “[insert your field] famous” and who wrote the book on X. How cool is that!? Strike up a convo with the person next to you. Eat lunch at a table of people you don’t know. Go out for the happy hour. Not only are these strategies ways to make your conference more interesting, they are all ways that you can build your professional network.
Share what you learned with coworkers
During the conference, make sure you take notes during the sessions. After you get back from the conference, share what you learned with your coworkers. You can put together a summary, you can hold a brown bag lunch to highlight the key things you learned, or you can simply share what you learned in conversation. This is a good way to spread the wealth and really make the most out of a conference. By sharing your knowledge, you’re ensuring that you aren’t the only one in the office who benefits from the conference.
Come up with a list of things to do post-conference
Hopefully, you’ll have learned some new things that can be applied to your job or situation. Don’t just think about them, start acting on them! Some offices are more open to change than others, so be aware of your current office culture, your office’s tolerance for change, and the best way that you can be a change agent. Whether you start small or big, make sure you come up with action items that can be applied to the office. It’s best to do this right after the conference, while everything is still fresh in your mind.
So there you have it: five ways to make the most out of a conference. By following even a few of these options, you’ll ensure that the conference was a good investment in terms of both money and time. Plus, you’ll be able to actually say how you used what you learned in real life. Hey, maybe you’ll be able to even present about it at the conference next year!