How to Maximize Your Conference Experience

Living the Life

How to Maximize Your Conference Experience

Jun 28, 2016 | Living the Life

How to Maximize Your Conference Experience

Jun 28, 2016 | Living the Life

We are heading into peak conference season (including the Solo PR Pro 2016 Main Event) so it is a great time to strategically prepare so that you get the get the most from your conference experience. Attending conferences provides an opportunity to build upon your professional development as well as network with fellow colleagues and prospective new clients.

Before attending any conference, you should be clear on your purpose for going and what you intend to get out of it. Conference organizers provide the venue, and content but it is up to you to maximize the value you get for yourself and your business.

Tips on choosing a conference   

Part of what makes attending conferences so appealing is the chance to learn new ideas and gain different perspectives. We can learn or strengthen skills and expand our network. To maximize these benefits, we need to determine ahead of time whether a conference is right for us and will likely yield the results we want.

Key questions to consider:

  • What are my professional and personal goals, and do those align with the conference’s theme, subject matter and target audience?
  • What do I hope to get out of the conference? What do I want to learn and who are the types of people I want to meet (e.g., fellow PR colleagues or specifically targeted industry representatives from my niche client sector)?
  • Who will be speaking? Who comprises the full roster of thought leaders and industry experts who will be there?
  • What type of content will be presented and is this relevant to me both as a professional and also a businessperson? Also, what is the overall format and setup for each session?
  • Who is expected to attend, and what type of networking opportunities will be available?
  • Where is it located? Will the venue require traveling a great distance or is it a relatively short commute in proximity to where I live?
  • What are all of the associated costs with attending (i.e., travel, accommodation, etc.)?
  • Can I justify attending based on my business (and professional) development goals?

Advance preparation

Make sure to research the conference agenda ahead of time and find out who the designated speakers are and who the likely attendees will be. Review the agenda or conference guide, and mark the activities and sessions that look the most interesting to you. From there, build your personal schedule around attending and participating in those selected sessions and activities.

Your schedule should also include designated time for strategically networking and socializing. To help keep you focused, develop lists of individuals who you’ll want to connect with and identify how you think they will be of help to you and your business and, reciprocally, in what ways you can be of value to them for mutual benefit.

Setting objectives for your experience

As with anything related to your business and career, having a plan in place is important. Therefore, build a conference plan. Devising a plan before you board the plane can allow you to guide your experience in the direction that will provide the most returns. This will help you leave with a sense of achievement and a roadmap for using the information gathered and contacts made to your advantage well into the future after the conference is over.

Your pre-conference plan not only should outline your intentions regarding conference activities but also how you’ll manage your business and client work while you’re away as these kinds of events can absorb a significant chunk of your time. Beforehand, you should put contingencies in place to ensure your business operations continue to run smoothly and your clients’ needs are met while you’re attending the conference.

Additional tips:

  • Register early to take advantage of early bird rates and give yourself plenty of planning time.
  • Stay at the conference hotel, to maximize your time for socializing
  • Update your social media platforms, particularly your LinkedIn profile. Make sure the information is current and accurate.
  • Polish and practice your elevator pitch.
  • Bring lots of business cards!
  • Don’t forget your chargers for your devices such as your smartphone, tablet or laptop, etc.
  • Don’t limit your interactions to only those you know, make it a point to meet new people.
  • Make sure to properly tag your social media posts and tweets before, during and after the conference.
  • Write identifying information on the back of people’s business cards (or capture digitally and make notes) as a reminder of key characteristics about them and the conversations you had for later reference.
  • Download the LinkedIn app so that you can connect with new contacts immediately.

Strategic networking

Identify ways you can meet people given the various kinds of breakout sessions and activities that will be available. Focus on connecting with people as a valuable investment of your time, which can reap untold dividends in the near- and long-term future.

Create a short list of at least three people you’d like to meet and or get to know better. Doing this can help you be more intentional and purposeful in your interactions. If you make it a point to meet and connect with a few key selected individuals, you can then spend the rest of the conference getting to know them further and solidifying a bond for remaining connected once the conference ends. Many times the most intriguing and informative insights that you’ll hear at a conference are those that come from the informal chats you happen to strike up with fellow attendees.

To get more of a sense of who may be attending, check out the conference’s Facebook page as well as other social media pages, including the Twitter hashtag. During the promotional period leading up to the conference date, refer back to these resource platforms to help identify people you’d like to meet as well as acquaintances and colleagues who may be going. Be sure to continually monitor the conference hashtag also to see what everyone is talking about and stay apprised of any trends that may be arising in those discussions. This can help provide fodder for your conversations with conference goers. Likewise, consider engaging in conversations with fellow attendees online as another way to introduce yourself to new people who you may be interested in meeting in-person and connecting with you further at the conference.

Another way to open up opportunities for engagement is to actively participate in group discussions and other workshop activities. This not only helps break the ice but also enables for you to share – and showcase – your background and expertise, which can serve to attract those who are like-minded and may be interested in your particular field.

Come prepared to take lots of notes as you will be hit with a great deal of information that you’ll want to track and keep organized for future reference.

Some tools that can help you include:

Look to arrange meetings with people before, during and after the conference. Consider getting in touch with people ahead of time so that you’re in a better position to use your time more wisely when you attend by specifically scheduling time to meet (e.g., for dinner, drinks, etc.). And invite those you do meet in-person at the conference to have lunch or dinner with you as a gateway to even richer dialogue and a deeper connection.

It’s also important to maintain perspective about what these initial connections may mean for you and your business. Don’t expect to close deals or sign contracts right away. The goal should be expanding and slowly cultivating your network over the long-term. These initial contacts may also open the door to more introductions within others’ networks from which to then build on even further.

Post conference

All too often the information and materials we collect during a conference get shelved either literally or in the recesses of our own minds. The days following a conference are when we feel the most energized to put to good use everything we’ve learned and to transform our quick introductions with people into lasting business relationships.

Although we feel motivated and have the best of intentions, sometimes the opposite can happen. To help ensure your experience is productive and rewarding where you’re applying what you’ve learned after the conference is over, pinpoint at least one or two ideas that you can implement immediately within your professional life and then develop a strategy with a timeline for making this happen. In addition, you can build upon what you’ve learned in the following ways:

  • Identify areas that you can further develop with additional self-directed training.
  • Connect on social media with conference speakers who impacted you.
  • Reach out to attendees on social media with whom you made a connection and would like to cultivate a professional relationship.
  • Search for future conferences that address areas that sparked your interest during the last one you attended.

Build upon the connections you make but touching base with them immediately after the conference. Send follow-up messages while the conference – and your introduction to them – is still top-of-mind and they remember meeting you.

We hope this equips you with the knowledge you need to get the most out of your next conference, including the Solo PR Pro’s 2016 Main Event, August 7-10 in Tampa Bay, Florida.

Do you have any tips for how to get the most out of your conference experience both during the event itself and afterwards in building professional relationships that endure? Please feel free to share your experiences and advice in the comments section below.

photo credit: 9239_ NTC_DW-2716 via photopin (license)

Written By Karen Swim
Karen Swim is the President of Solo PR and Founder of public relations agency, Words For Hire.