Preparing for a conference isn’t an easy task. You know you are going to be out of the office for a couple of days, so you try to be as proactive about your work as possible. You must make sure your staff is prepared and understands their expectations while you are gone. You have to pack and think about what you are going to take with you. Schedules for your family will need to be adjusted, so nothing falls through the cracks. There are always things to be done before leaving.
I’m not talking about that kind of preparation. I’m talking about taking advantages of all the opportunities of the conference. Prepare for the actual conference, so you can really get something out of the conference. Whether you are a principal at your firm or the marketing manager, you can show the value you received from the conference with some simple steps. We don’t expect our clients to design and build their buildings, so that’s why they hire architects, engineers, and contractors to help them. You create a plan and execute that plan. A conference should be no different.
Make a plan and then execute it. Start by looking over the schedule and breakout sessions and determining which ones you will be attending. If there are multiple people from your firm attending the conference, don’t attend the same sessions. You both can learn something from different sessions, and then share that information. It will make you a well-rounded person and firm, the more diverse information you can gather. After selecting the breakout sessions, try to determine one or two questions you would ask the speaker about that topic. Usually speakers LOVE to answer questions and appreciate audience engagement.
Find out who will be attending the conference. Ask for the list of attendees from the conference planner. Some conferences have jumped on the social media bandwagon and created groups for the conferences, so you can start to build relationships before the actual conference. This also allows you to see who is attending the conference and who you might do business with or have the opportunity to do business with. Set up mini meetings with some of those potential clients. It may only be 10 or 15 minutes but reach out to them. There are very few people who take full advantage of a conference they are attending.
Conferences can be very overwhelming if you are new to the industry or your position, so make sure to take good notes. Also, after each session, note your top two or three take aways from that session. At the end of the conference, gather all those take aways and pick two or three things to implement immediately at the office. You’ll probably have ten to twelve different things you’ll want to implement, but if you start with a manageable number of two to three then you are more likely to attain them. These notes can also serve as your summary to give to your principals or supervisor. This shows them you are dedicated to your position and helping them grow their firm. It shows initiative. Some principals don’t see the value in conferences and by writing a summary and implementation steps, they will see the value you brought back to the firm.
Meet as many people as you can. Take LOTS of business cards with you. (I once attended a conference where I was in between jobs, so I created my own and told them I would send them my new contact information once I started my new position.) Networking is very important during a conference, because you start to build those relationships that will one day turn into business. Learn about how you can help that person. Networking is all about connecting and helping people. (I wrote a blog on that awhile back, so you can read it here.)
After returning from the conference, connect with all the people you’ve met at the conference through LinkedIn. LinkedIn now has the ability for you to make notes about where you met your connections at, so you can make a note that you met them at a particular conference. If you have promised to do anything for someone you met, please make sure to follow through with your promise.
By making a plan and implementing that plan, you will gain much more knowledge at the conference. Take these simple steps to maximize your next conference. You will bring more value to yourself and to your firm. Now I challenge you to go write your conference plan today!