Conferences provide wonderful opportunities for learning, refreshing, and networking. They can also be overwhelming if you don’t plan strategically. As you prepare to attend a conference, think differently about how you use your time.
- Make a plan. First, you’ll want to look over the session schedule and identify which sessions you want to attend. Always identify back-up sessions in case your preferred session is full when you reach the room. Google the speaker and learn about him/her in advance. Does he/she have a Twitter account, blog, YouTube channel, etc? Follow the speaker and engage with him or her before the event. They’ll be excited to hear from an attendee and likely take time to chat with you before or after the session.
- Follow the back-channel. You’re only one person and can only be in one place at a time. However, that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on all of the brilliant content being delivered in other concurrent sessions. Most conferences these days designate a Twitter hashtag for the event. Search that hashtag and see what your colleagues felt was Twitter-worthy during their sessions. It’s a great opportunity to get the best sound bites from each speaker.
- Share with others. As long as you’re following the back-channel, you might as well contribute to it as well. You don’t have to be a social media maven to experience the benefit of Twitter during a conference. If you don’t usually tweet, you can get started by choosing the 3 or 4 best pieces of information you learned during the session and share those as tweets. You never know who will see and engage with that information. You may make a new friend.
- Network, network, network. Whether you’re connecting on social media or in-person, conferences are a wonderful place to make new lifelong connections. If you’re attending a conference with your current coworkers, take time to break away from the group and meet new people. Get to sessions early and find someone new to sit next to and introduce yourself. You never know who will be your next employee, employer, or customer.
- Network in unexpected places. When you attend a major conference, chances are your hotel will be crawling with other attendees just like you. Some of the best networking happens outside of the conference’s formal sessions. Go sit at the hotel bar. Hang out in the hotel coffee shop. Go to the gym. Attend the event’s evening parties. Networking opportunities are all around you. But you have to be open to going outside of your comfort zone for the biggest results.
Remember, a conference is a marathon, not a sprint. Take time to recharge your batteries as needed so you’ll be rested and ready to learn new concepts, refresh your knowledge, and meet great new people.