Conferences are what you make of them: the more you put in, the more you’ll get out of them. If you’re not sure why you’re going, or what you want to get out of the experience, you’re unlikely to get it. This blog aims to help you make your conference attendance a more valuable and engaging experience.
The most interesting moments are not spent in the sessions themselves but in informal interactions with other attendees. The unique, personal, and insightful conversations you have with other people can only happen at the event. So don’t be a wallflower: prioritise spending time socialising with other people.
When I look at the advance programme for a conference, here’s how I rank the different kinds of sessions:
Contribute: Most good events have ways to participate and you should. Anyone can submit a paper, panel session idea, or workshop proposal. By far the best way to meet interesting people is to participate. Even the process of submitting something is rewarding: you’ll spend energy refining your interests, which improves your ability to talk about them on the fly. Some events have volunteers who help run the event: joining their ranks gives you a circle of people you share at least one context with.
Workshops: DB Recovery+ has afternoon slots for a small group to work together. These are interactive and can go deeper than the morning plenary presentations. Even in a bad workshop – which you won’t experience with DBR+ worldclass experts – since you’ve all shared a half day together, it’s easy to socialise afterwards. Sometimes the later conversation or meeting is better than the workshop!
Plenary presentations: Have a question prepared for plenary presentations, where all attendees are gathered together – when you ask it during the Q&A, everyone will be aware of you. It will make it easier for them to approach you afterwards.
Lunch and refreshment breaks: Attending a conference which offers a full lunch gives you invaluable opportunities to chat in a friendly atmosphere with your fellow attendees and prospective colleagues or employers.
Pre-conference warmers: We (as founders of UKESAD) were the UK pioneers of kickstarting conferences with ‘open’ 12-step meetings everyone can attend an hour or so before the conference opening keynote speeches. Even if you’re not in a fellowship, attend for both professional knowledge and to meet people early, sharing their hopes and insecurities.
Exhibitors: this applies to you, too! We could advise delegates to interact with exhibitors who are often leaders in their field. But this is a 2-way street. Too often, exhibitors sit passively at their table, waiting for people to approach them. Contribute in all the ways above and your contacts will multiply!
Be prepared. Be prepared. Be prepared. There will be no time to stop and pause once you arrive at the event, so take some time to complete the following items beforehand – 2 months before the symposium is not too early to start.
Review the agenda. This one’s a no-brainer. Set a goal for what you’d like to learn at the conference, and use the agenda to devise a plan. Make sure to attend conference-wide events like keynote addresses. When it comes to smaller sessions, consider both the speaker and the subject matter. Highly tactical sessions are generally useful to attend regardless of who leads them. However, sessions less directly related to your profession can be valuable as well if they’re led by an industry figure you’re angling to meet.
Write on this blog facility! Just click here to express interest. Then your fellow attendees will get to know you beforehand.
Orient yourself. Familiarise yourself with the conference space so you don’t get lost. You don’t want to miss important information, or for a roomful of people to form a negative first impression of you by showing up late. DB Recovery+ helpfully provides a floorplan and virtual tour as well as map directions (keep a copy on your phone for the event). Register early, grab a welcome tea/coffee and walk round the space. Grab a floorplan from your delegate bag.
Find out who’s going. The people you’ll attend sessions with are as important as the sessions themselves. There’s no better time to network with your peers, connect with new prospects, or touch base with customers than at a conference. Find this facility on the www.recoveryplusdb.com website 2 months before the event. They’re a great way to keep track of people you’d like to meet. Don’t count on simply running into prospects at the conference. Instead, reach out to them ahead of time to let them know you’ll both be in attendance. This way, you can book time on their calendars and have their full, undivided attention instead of trying to cram a 15-minute conversation into a stop-and-chat.
Set an out-of-office reply. You’ll probably be checking your work email during the conference. But even if you are, you won’t be able to respond at the same clip as you do in the office. Make sure prospects and customers know why they might not hear from you for a few days by setting up an out-of-office reply.
Bring the right gear – include comfortable shoes, even if you also wear stylish business shoes. Conferences are multi-day affairs so make sure you: Keep your phone and laptop chargers with you, Pack enough business cards, Bring materials you need for demos. By no means pitch to people who don’t want to be pitched - but if one of those pre-set prospect meetings turns into a sales opportunity, it’ll be more efficient – and impressive – if you can provide a walkthrough on the spot.
Ship your proceedings and stuff back to your office. If there are proceedings and other materials, such as books you’ve purchased, you might want to send them direct to your office and you may be able to claim the expense. Parcels2Go is an efficient site which compares prices across couriers.
Take advantage of the trip. Conferences give you a chance to see a different part of the world. Don’t waste it. If your organisation paid for your travel, see if you can stay an extra night at its expense, or use vacation days. Wise managers know the entire idea of sending you is to give you new perspectives and ideas, and some of that can best happen outside of the event itself.
It’s common to attend a conferences with coworkers. This can be great. You’re likely to bond more, and spend time together in a way that doesn’t happen at work. However, you might fall into a pattern where you spend most of your time with them so night, you’re not going to meet new people. One trick is to go to dinner together with coworkers, but require that everyone bring someone they met at the conference; the same requirement could be applied for lunch, which is provided at the DB Recovery+ symposium.
Many folks take conferences way too seriously. The first rule of training is that most people don’t learn very much when they are under stress. Enjoy the prestigious setting, the like-minded people, the exchange of information and the conviviality.
Hints and tips to get the most out of a conference +
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