6 Ways to Make the Most of a Conference Experience

Jenkins Johnson Keynote CrowdThe reasons to attend an event like South by Southwest (SXSW) are varied, and sometimes seem a bit obtuse to those not in attendance (“I have better things to do than go to a lot of parties,” many say). However, as we discuss on a regular basis in the Solo PR community, networking is key to the ongoing success of our businesses.

Because I get a number of referrals from the social media community, attending events where I’ll not only learn a great deal, but also maintain and build relationships with my network, is an investment with demonstrable ROI.

But have you ever gone to a conference only to come home without seeing someone you really meant to meet up with? Or perhaps you’ve found out after the fact that someone you really admire presented an awesome session? Any time I’m attending a conference, I make the following “plan:”

1. Make a list of people I want to be sure I see, including a few I’d like to get to know better and/or meet

This might seem a little stalker-ish, but I’m quite harmless – I promise! We all have lots of social media friends we’ve never met face-to-face, and if I have an opportunity to do so, I’m certainly going to take it. And you know those people who travel in similar online circles as you, but you’ve never really had a chance to chat or meet? An event like SXSW is great for saying hi to them, since you’ll be surrounded by those mutual friends.

I make a full list of these folks, and if I know we’re going to be in the same place at the same time, I include that information. I do this in my smartphone so I can refer to the list throughout the event, and then I check the people off as I go (like the OCD freak that I am).

2. Arrange a pre-appointed time/place to meet key friends

First, make a list of buddies you know are going to the conference (yes, write it down), and then contact them to arrange a meetup. This doesn’t have to be a separate meeting/meal – you can decide to both be at the same event/panel/spot. At SXSW, this often means a particular party. Make a date and put it on your calendar.

3. Know the quick answer to the question, “what are you working on?”

I’ve learned this one the hard way. My clients tend to be super technical and sometimes on the boring side, so I’ve sputtered and stammered more times than I’d like to admit when asked this question. You will be asked, so be ready.

4. Identify my must-see presentations and load them onto my schedule

For many events this is easy and a no-brainer. For huge events with multiple tracks (in conference rooms that are spread out), making the most of your time requires some worthwhile forethought.  Also check out the exhibitor list to see if there are any vendors with demonstrations you’d like to see – if so, add some time in the exhibit hall to your schedule, as well.

5. Leave plenty of time for chance meetings

Frequently, the best thing about a large conference is the ad hoc conversations you can have there. Finding out what others are up to, and discovering their opinions on hot topics, is often a much better learning opportunity than what you’ll hear in the official sessions. Don’t over-schedule yourself to the point that you can’t enjoy this important part of the conference experience.

6. Have fun!

People who are having fun are much more pleasant to be around, don’t you think? So not only will you have a better time, you’ll meet more people and have more educational conversations.

What do you do to make the most of your attendance at events? Any tips you’d like to add?

  • Love the tips, Kellye. I'm definitely going to try to work more chance meetings and meetups into my schedule at SXSW this year. See you there?

  • Thanks, Jacob — I didn't know you were going. Need to add you to my list!

  • I am indeed. We'll have to meet up at some point!