For almost three decades, I have been attending conferences. For twenty years, I went as a participant, while serving as vice president of three colleges and a medical center. For the last eight years, I have gone to numerous conferences as a professional speaker and seminar leader, while I continue to attend the National Speakers Association’s conferences as a registrant.
Here is what I have learned about getting the most out of a conference, so your investment of time and money will bring long range dividends.
One: Read the conference agenda thoroughly, as soon as you receive it, and select the sessions that will be most likely to improve your professional performance. Note: Too many attendees shy away from learning something new, so they settle for the comfort of attending seminars they could almost teach themselves. This is not the time for needless repetition, but for moving forward by learning new techniques and strategies.
Two: Ask a professional colleague to become your conference partner, so that each of you can share what you learn, especially when you describe the different seminars you attended.
Three: Plan to stay for the entire conference. Ever notice how many people skip the last half-day? You never know what good advice you might be missing by arriving late or leaving early.
Four: Stay at the designated hotel. Sure, you might find cheaper ones a few blocks away, but you need to be where you can enlarge your network most effectively. Also, you will be glad you reside at the host hotel when bad weather moves in suddenly. You can keep going to the sessions without having to change clothes and repair your wind-damaged hairdo.
Five: When you attend the conference parties, realize that potential employers, clients or business partners might observe your behavior. You are not really off duty because you have left your home base. Enjoy yourself, of course, yet avoid risky behavior that will jeopardize your job, family and future.
Six: Take plenty of business cards, because you may need more than you could predict. Certainly when you meet leaders in your field, you will want to help them remember you.
Seven: Tactfully collect as many business cards as you can, so you can follow up later with post cards, E-mails or phone calls. Attendees will feel complimented that you remember them.
Eight: Buy the tapes and audio CDs recorded during the sessions. This is helpful even for the speeches and seminars you attend, as listening again will reinforce your learning.
Nine: Become an active participant, asking questions and making comments when the format allows interaction. This way, the topics will take on new life for you. Equally as important, your colleagues will begin to notice and remember you.
Ten: Meet and thank everyone who served on the conference planning committee. They deserve your compliments. And when you thank them, you will definitely stand out as one of the few who did.