Capitalize on Conferences

September 6, 2009 at 11:40 am Leave a comment

Photo: Dawn Galbreath

Photo: Dawn Galbreath

Ask anyone about the conference they attended yesterday, and you’ll hear about the great sessions they sat in on, the people they met, and the inspirational ideas that were presented and exhibited. A week later, ask them about the same conference, and they’ll be a bit less enthusiastic. A month later, ask them again and they may remember a thing or two, but only in general terms. What causes the excitement to fade?

Attending professional conferences is viewed by some as a great opportunity to get out of the office. For some, it’s a necessary evil. Whether you love them or hate them though, getting the full value from a conference can be a little tricky.

I haven’t been to a single conference that didn’t motivate me, inspire me, or educate me in some way. But that enthusiasm dies quickly upon returning home and I’m no longer motivated to capitalize on any part of the experience. It’s only natural. While you’re at a conference, it’s all about the conference. When you get back home and to the office, it’s all about catching up with everything that piled up while you were at the conference. In losing all that positive energy, your investment – hundreds if not thousands of dollars – returns next to nil.

5 Ways to Get the Most out of Conferences

This post contains a detailed description and set of tools to help you get the most out of any conference you attend. But, the upshot is these five points:

  1. Prepare by reviewing the conference materials one week in advance and then again the day before the conference.
  2. Attend the conference with a clear set of objectives that you have shared with a friend or colleague who is committed to helping you be accountable for them.
  3. Allow time each day to write down the highlights of the conference.
  4. At the end of the conference, provide your employer or colleague with a written report summarizing the takeaways of the conference and how you plan to implement them.
  5. Follow up with the contacts you made.

For tips and tools,

A Three-Step Process

Capitalizing on conferences is a three-step process: 1) Preparation, 2) Attendance, and 3) Follow-up. The time you spend doing this will vary depending on the size, duration and significance of the conference. You undoubtedly mark your calendar for the time you plan to attend the conference. Likewise, you should schedule time on your calendar for focused preparation and especially, for follow-up.

Go in with a plan

Everyone pretty much does the same thing when they attend a conference. They peruse exhibits or booths, attend sessions, meet people, talk to them, and exchange business cards. The difference is that some people do these things haphazardly. Others, however, do it with a purpose and a plan. The plan is where the initial value is realized.

Preparation – Before the conference: (see Pre-Conference Planning form)

  • Review the conference information thoroughly and make a plan. Many event organizers provide websites and catalogs rich with information
    • Choose which sessions you’ll attend based on topic, presenter and/or schedule
    • Identify the booths you want to visit
    • Be familiar with the map and layout of the conference facility
  • If appropriate, introduce yourself in advance to people of interest by sending or posting (e.g., on Facebook Fan Page or @message on Twitter) a note to them.
  • Develop a statement of expectations and objectives for attending the conference.
  • Refer to the follow-up report form (below) and keep yourself aware of what you will be looking for during the conference.
  • Proactively seek high ROI. Based on what it costs to attend (registration fee, travel and lodging, time away from work), know what metrics you’re targeting to ensure a good return on your investment (e.g., number of leads to convert; number of valuable professional relationships that are established, CE credits earned)
  • Prepare a supply of your business cards by writing the name of the conference, the location and the date on the back side. This will be appreciated by the people who receive them.
  • Get a good night’s rest before the first morning of the conference
  • Schedule time on the morning after the conference to debrief and do a post-conference report.

Attendance – During the conference:

  • Keep a small tablet handy; record notes about
    • people you meet and anything significant about them that you want to remember or follow up on.
    • Significant slogans, quotes or concepts that you come across.
    • Activities or presentations that seemed to work well.
    • Anything that inspires you. (I.e., an idea that you want to put into action after the conference)
  • Collect business cards
  • Ask people for their opinions of sessions you weren’t able to attend.
  • Make conversation with anyone you sit near at sessions, or share a table with at meals.
  • Attend as many of the conference activities as you can; even the informal and unscheduled social gatherings during off hours.
  • If this is a multi-day conference
    • At the beginning of each day:
      • review your schedule for sessions you will attend
      • mark the booths you’ll visit on the floor plan
    • At the end of each day:
      • clean out your briefcase, bags and pockets and organize business cards, brochures and materials you picked up.
      • Organize and label notes from the sessions you attended
      • Update the list of booths you visited/want to visit.

Follow-up provides the ROI

Even a well-executed plan for conference attendance can fall flat if there is no follow-through. In my opinion, the follow-through is the most important step of the entire process. In fact, my advice is to save yourself the time and expense of attending the conference in the first place, if you’re not going to take the time to follow it up.

Use a Post-Conference Report form as a guide to your follow-up activities. Filling out a form will not only create valuable documentation that can be shared, but the exercise of writing down your observations and perceptions will enhance you ability to implement new knowledge and transform ideas into action. Essentially, you can expect to increase the overall return on your investment. You should note:

  • Whether or not the conference met your expectations / you achieved your objectives.
  • How much of a financial investment was made for you to attend the conference. This can be used when measuring the metrics defined in the planning phase.
  • The highlights and most memorable moments of the conference experience.
  • How you will implement what you learned, and to whom you will be accountable for these actions.
  • Valuable contacts that will be added to your professional network.
  • Specific details about the sessions you attended.

Pre-Conference Planning Form
Post-Conference Report Form


Entry filed under: Coaching, General, Productivity. Tags: , , , .

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