Whether in person or virtual, conferences are a key resource to any professional and should be approached with planning and consideration. Many people attend a conference with no plan, and they leave with a little more knowledge, but missing out on a lot of opportunities. By planning out your participation and developing your toolkit, you can be better prepared to maximize your time.
When selecting which conferences to attend, consider the audience, the content, and what you hope to achieve. Are you seeking to meet new contacts that you can invite to speak at events, partner on projects with, or to be information sources?
Review the conference organizer’s website and past events to evaluate which will best attract those types of individuals. If learning opportunities are important to you, review the training classes and presentations that are scheduled. Check the scheduling to ensure you will be able to attend each learning session you have interest in. If the agenda is not available yet, check past conference agendas or keynote speakers to get an idea of the level of technical content and subjects that are usually covered.
Once you have a clear idea of why you want to attend a certain conference – and this might be education, making connections, connecting with a specific person or persons, gaining visibility by presenting, learning about new advancements in the industry, and more – map out how you are going to achieve those goals. And be specific, you want to attend 3 sessions and make 10 contacts. You want to take your certification test, meet a specific speaker, and connect with 3 potential employers. Having clear goals before you go will help keep you focused once you’re there.
Next, consider how you are going to achieve each of your goals. This might include developing an agenda for yourself to ensure that you can fit in each session that you want to attend or making time for a networking opportunity. If you want to make contacts, review the sponsorship list, the presenter list, and past conferences to get a good idea of who will be there. If the conference provides attendees with a list of registrants, go over the list and plan out who you would really like to meet. Look them up on LinkedIn or their company page to see their headshot and bio and get an idea of what topics they might be interested in. This will all help you approach them and offer up an anecdote or thought that they will find interesting.
Write up an elevator speech. This is a 2-3 sentence summary of you, and what you do, and what your organization does. Essentially, it explains why people should be excited to meet you. You should always have a well thought-out, practiced, elevator speech ready to go. You don’t want to be caught off guard while waiting to get coffee and not be ready to introduce yourself. What if it is the president of that company that you really want to work at!
Finally, consider what you’ll do next after a conference. So many times, you’ll go to a conference, meet tons of people and then not talk to them again until the next conference. Reaching out to new contacts every few weeks helps you strengthen the connection and is critical to growing your network. Plan out what steps you will take. Will you send a ‘nice meeting you’ note to each contact the day after the conference ends? Pre-write the note and have it ready to go, that way even if you find yourself super tired from the conference, you can still get your notes sent.
Did you go to the conference to get your certification or to take classes? Write up your notes and summarize the learning points into a nice post-event report that you give to your boss. Or create a PowerPoint and present what you learned to your colleagues at work. Your company will see the value they gained from sending you (or they might consider paying for you to go next time) and your colleagues and boss will appreciate your willingness to share. Writing up a summary will also help you remember what you learned and will act as a great reminder later of the benefits you gained by going.
So remember, before picking your events for the year consider what you want to gain, set clear goals for yourself, map out how you will achieve those goals, develop and practice your elevator speech, and remember to plan your follow-ups and event summaries. This will help you get the most out of your experience and maybe a few more contacts for your network.
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