As conference season grows upon us, I think it is important for us to reflect on the best practices for making the most of your conference experience. Whether you are a seasoned professional or interviewing for your first job out of Graduate school; these helpful tips can be very helpful no matter what level you are in your field.
- Have a flexible game plan. Planning out your trip and schedule ahead of time is a great way to pressure yourself to make the most use of your time at the conference. Using the conference schedule or brochure is a great way to plan ahead to which speakers, sessions, or receptions to attend. It is important to remember that you must have some flexibility with the schedule allowing some opening to connect with old colleagues or creating time to connect with new ones. You can also plan these ahead of time if you know of others attending the conference.
- Always dress to impress. You never know who you are going to meet or run into at a Conference. Whether you are job hunting or secure in a position; networking contacts can help you at any point in your career and you want to make a good first impression. Always dress to impress and be professional. Even if you are out for the evening with some colleagues and in casual attire; make sure it is appropriate as you can run into anyone at any time!
- Always have your name tag visible. Professionals use nametags at conferences to find out who you are and where you are from. This can help create connections that you may not know you had. Although you may feel like a small fish in a big sea; your affiliation with your company, university or colleagues could lead to connections with others. People will also be more likely to use your name (which will help them remember it) if you are wearing a nametag.
- Bring business cards and resumes. Having these on hand, even if you are not job hunting, can benefit anyone attending a conference. Updating your contact information with old colleagues, connecting with vendors, having your information for new contacts or even to enter yourself into drawings and prizes are some of the examples of how business cards can benefit. It may seem simple, but many people do forget! Don’t have business cards? Create some for yourself! Sites like vistaprint and 1800postcards often have deals for free business cards or you can create them yourself on the computer!
- Go to sessions. A few days away from work and a comfy hotel bed?; It is easy to get caught up in staying in bed and hanging out with other friends or colleagues who may be at the conference or in the area! It is important to remember the purpose of this professional development opportunity and the investment you or your company have put into sending you to the conference. Make the most of the experience and attend sessions. Be sure to pick sessions that you can utilize now or in the future. Be strategic. Choose the best sessions for your site, company or you; not because everyone else is going to it or you know the presenter. Attending sessions are a great way to get information and make connections through networking.
- Attend receptions, speakers, and vendor fairs. Gather resources! These “extras” at conferences may not seem as important as sessions but they are! These are great opportunities for you to network and gain valuable resources for your site! Even if you don’t feel like you need it now, you can always have a “toolbox” and have resources readily available if something does come up.
- Connect with old colleagues; meet new ones and network as much as possible. Making sure you keep in contact and up to date with your old colleagues can be just as beneficial as making new connections. Professionals in the field are always advancing and/or moving around to new job opportunities which may be able to benefit you. Let them know what you are doing and what you are looking to do in the future. Down the road if a position opens up, they may think of you because you connected with them! Networking can be tiresome for some introverts but it is well worth the energy for the things you will gain!
- Apply what you’ve learned. Conferences are not beneficial or worth the investment if you do not apply the things you’ve learned! After you return from a conference, reflect and review the things you gained. Additionally, write down the things you wish to implement in your professional life or on your site and how you plan on implementing these new initiatives. This is also a good time to reach out to those you connected with at the conference. Grab all those business cards and send a quick “thank you” to those you connected with. This will make you stand out and hopefully spark a conversation!
These eight tips are a glimpse into the ways that you can make the most of your conference experience. Use them to your advantage. Enjoy the experience and all the benefits you can gain from it. Be intentional and strategic! Hopefully, using these tips, you will make the best of this season! Happy Conferencing!