Conferences, conventions, trade shows. Whatever you call them, they present a variety of unique opportunities for professionals. They can also present a distinct set of challenges as well. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your experience:
Keep your eye on the prize
It’s important to know why you’re attending a conference. What capacity are you going in? Are you an attendee? An exhibitor? What are you trying to gain for yourself and for your company? Think about this and consider speaking with others in your office who won’t be attending. What knowledge can you bring back that would be beneficial for your team?
To keep yourself organized, make a list of any important questions that you want to have answered at the end of the show, whether they’re general inquiries or specific questions you would like to ask particular exhibitors on the trade show floor.
Identify your goals, and then use those to guide your experience.
Conferences are notorious for jam-packed schedules from early in the morning to late at night. With so many activities to choose from and so much to juggle, preparation is key.
Make sure to take a thorough look at the conference agenda as far in advance as possible. Plan out what sessions and events you want to attend as soon as they’re announced, and reserve your space if you need to. Research the list of speakers and exhibitors and study the expo hall map, so you can plan time to connect with those that are most important to you. Make a schedule for yourself and be sure to include the activities and events that will be most valuable for you in achieving your goals for the conference first.
Most conferences today have a dedicated app as well. Download it and familiarize yourself with it beforehand, so you know what’s there and can access the information easily on the go.
Prepare for your time away from what you’ll be leaving behind. Set a connectivity strategy to stay in touch and keep up with the office and home. Pack as early as possible and pack smart. Don’t forget to bring plenty of business cards!
From the moment you sign up for the conference, you should start connecting. If there is someone you definitely want to meet, connect with them before the show. You can use traditional connection platforms like email, but don’t neglect social media. The value it can bring to your overall conference experience is extremely powerful.
Follow and connect with conference organizers on social media, and don’t be afraid to join the conversation yourself. Following official conference hashtags and using them yourself in your own posts is a great way to connect with the event community, including attendees, speakers, and exhibitors. Take in others’ insights, share your own, and have fun!
This may seem obvious by now, but there always seems to be someone sitting on the floor next to the outlet in the hallway, or running back to the hotel and missing the keynote speaker because their phone is dead. Make sure all of your devices are fully juiced up in the morning, and in case of emergencies bring your chargers along with you when you head out for the day. Consider investing in a portable charger as well and carry it with you at all times, so you won’t have to be tied to an outlet if you’re losing power.
Consider your appearance
Whether we like it or not, physical impressions matter. At a conference, you’re likely to meet many new people for the first time and reconnect with those you don’t see often, so it’s important to put in the time and effort necessary to make sure you look your best.
That being said, it’s important to not forget about function, and absolutely don’t sacrifice comfort. You want to be able to give 100% and still enjoy yourself, not be held back by your wardrobe.
The importance of comfort and functionality tends to come into play most with shoes and bags, so think about those extra carefully. There are some great tips on this subject that you can find in a previous blog post here – A Business Traveler’s Guide on How to Dress for a Conference.
Take care of yourself
Heading to a conference, you likely know you’re in for long days and late nights. Go in ready to work hard and get everything out of your experience, but also remember that your health and wellness are important if you want to be able to do that successfully.
Focus on simple solutions like eating whole foods with plenty of protein as much as possible, concentrating on getting quality sleep (even if it’s not much, make it count), trying to fit in some light exercise if you can, and drinking LOTS of water. The importance of hydration cannot be stressed enough! You need those energy levels to be high, so don’t forget to take care of yourself.
Don’t neglect your follow-up
Just because the conference is over doesn’t mean your work surrounding it is finished. Some of the most important things you gain from your experience can depend on the diligence and thoroughness of your follow-up.
Doing this properly though begins long before the event is complete. It’s pretty simple really – just take notes. Lots of notes. Take notes during education sessions and speeches, take notes about exhibitors you meet on the trade show floor, take notes about the people you meet and the topics you discuss with them. You can execute this in a simple notebook, on the backs of brochures and business cards, or in an app like Evernote, which I love because I can add photos directly to my notes and everything syncs between the mobile app and my computer.
Use those notes to personally follow-up with the people you met, whether that be through connecting on LinkedIn, writing an email, etc. Do this as soon as possible. And don’t waste any time in putting together a conference recap either. Use your notes and highlight the major themes and messages from the conference, what you learned, who you met, and so on.
You can share this with your boss and/or your colleagues to help them learn from your experience and show the value that sending you to the conference brought to the company. It can also help you retain the knowledge you gained by forcing you to regroup and sort out your thoughts while it’s all fresh in your memory.
Seize the day
Conferences present many unique opportunities to learn, grow, and make new connections. Talk to your seat mate on the plane, sit next to a stranger during a breakout session, introduce yourself to a new group at a mixer, ask a question during a Q&A, or talk to a speaker or industry professional you admire. Take advantage of as many of these opportunities as possible, even if they require you to step out of your comfort zone.