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These days, attending a professional conference should be part of your personal learning and development plan because, let’s face it, in this fast-paced world, learning on the job never ends. Technology, science, communication and business best practices are ever changing, and you must evolve and adapt in order to progress in your career!
Chances are good, whether you’re in your first job or an expert in your field, that you will soon find yourself at a conference—learning, exploring, developing specific skills, getting CEU’s and certification, and networking to develop personal or business opportunities. Attending a conference requires a significant investment of time and money and there are many things you can do to enrich the experience and amplify the value long after you’ve returned home.
Set your goals for attendance and keep them manageable. Whether personal or professional, these goals should be quantifiable and achievable. For example, you could identify a specific topic you’d like to become more knowledgeable about, set a number of contacts you’d like to make at specific companies, or register for certification or CEUs you’d like to earn. Make the commitment to yourself to achieve the plan, then strategize on how you will execute it.
- Make a date with the program: Time is precious, but it’s easy to get shut out of a session or course you may need for a certificate or CEU. As soon as you register, plan at least an hour to review the tracks, sessions, and events to identify influencers and who might be giving the most valuable sessions. Set time aside to attend meet-ups or moderated roundtable discussions if available. Once your sessions are confirmed, create a personalized schedule to help you stay organized. Finally, revisit the program right before you leave to see if any late-breaking and timely sessions have been added.
- Download the conference app well in advance of the event: Often, you can network with other attendees through the app. Scan their profiles and get a sense of their backgrounds to see who might be a good match for networking.
- Get comfortable with social: If you don’t have one, get a twitter account or brush up your LinkedIn profile. Make note of the conference hashtag.
- Pack your business cards if you have them: Although most attendees connect through social, business cards are still considered important, especially if you are traveling internationally.
At the Conference
- Step out of your comfort zone and network wherever you can! If you are a first-time attendee, don’t be shy! There are frequently events, meet-ups or dine-arounds (organized dinners for attendees at local restaurants) for first-timers. Traveling alone doesn’t mean you should dine alone. Look for dine-arounds, sporting events, receptions, local field trips and more. They’re fun and a good source of networking opportunities.
- If there is an exhibit hall, don’t ignore it! Identify five companies you’re interested in, make appointments in advance, or just stop by to learn. Many companies are happy to engage from a brand activation perspective rather than a sales angle.
- Connect with the speakers you find most valuable face to face: Many times speakers and panelists make themselves available directly after the session for one on one discussion. You can also use the opportunity to follow them on Twitter / LinkedIn.
- Get noticed! Use the conference hashtag directly from the sessions and post ideas or top takeaways. Speakers love to be acknowledged on social and your posts can spark discussion and recognition from fellow attendees. You may even boost your own followers this way!
- Have fun: Use the conference app and participate in any contests or social programs – the more you do, the more you benefit.
- Dust off the notebook! Pick up on trends and document specific examples from the case studies you see/hear. Make a note of the most valuable presentations and ask presenters to share slides, so that you can offer to colleagues on your return.
- Pay it forward! Share trends and information you’ve learned with your colleagues and management teams.
- Report on your experience and prove the ROI: Prepare an executive summary for your manager/leadership team, including important stats about attendance, honest feedback on the quality of learning experience, sessions, opportunities for business development and cost. Identify the next big thing: anything you learned that your company or leadership could use. Consider ways that you or your company could participate at this event in the future.
- Stay Connected! Follow the conversations post-event on Twitter or other social platforms. Continue your learning and further your development by staying connected to the contacts you made at the conference.
There are so many benefits to getting out of the office to learn, network, experience and share at a conference. Good pre-planning and smart engagement can make your experience more valuable to you and your company! Remember-take this opportunity to develop your skills, hone your voice and footprint, and become recognized for your valuable insights.