So, you’re attending a conference for work, what a fantastic opportunity! Conferences are excellent events to expand your knowledge, develop new skills, and make lasting contacts. Think of conferences as mega networking opportunities. Events like these are great for professionals of any age (but especially novice professionals) to broaden experience levels. After all, each conference you attend is another bullet on your resume.
Before you attend a conference, there’s much prep to be done. You can’t blindly attend without an action plan, right? GenTwenty‘s biggest mantra is to be your best self. If you’re following our lead, being your best self means being prepared and present.
That said, here are eight ways to make the most out of attending a conference:
1. Research the speaker(s).
Before you purchase your ticket or accept one from your employer, research the speaker(s) to gain an understanding of what the person’s background is. The speaker(s) may have years of experience in your field, which may prove helpful to you; or, only a few brief years, which may not be worth the investment.
While duration of work in a profession is not the sole factor to determine someone’s knowledge, it may impact your decision to attend the conference or not. Do your research! At the very least, you’ll familiarize yourself with the speaker(s) work.
2. Select your sessions in advance.
Before you travel to the venue and find your seat, assess the agenda for the day. Look at which sessions most apply to your situation. While the conference might cover a broad topic (e.g. marketing) there will likely be smaller sessions throughout the day that interest you more than others (e.g. email marketing, social media marketing, print advertising, etc.).
The point is, the entire day may not educate you, but specific breakout sessions may. Do your research ahead of time so you have a grasp on your schedule for the duration of the conference.
3. Pack your business cards.
Never leave your house without your business cards! It’s a rule of thumb for professionals. It doesn’t matter if you’re grabbing a quick bite at a nearby restaurant, or heading to a networking event. Always have business cards at the ready, and a conference is the perfect place to do just that.
Handing out your business cards not only demonstrates your confidence and preparation, it also invites others to connect with you after the event. You may leave with more business for your company, or at the very least a new contact. Either way, having your business cards handy at a conference is absolutely essential.
4. Chitchat with your neighbors.
When you choose your seat at a conference, chances are that’s your seat for the day. That said, don’t be shy. Speak with the people sitting next to and around you. Take action by introducing yourself and offering a firm handshake.
Even if the people around you seem older, quiet, or very different from you, they may be the perfect networking partners. Never judge anyone at an event like this (or in life, but that’s for another time). Instead, consider everyone around you to be a networking opportunity. Chat them up with confidence!
5. Be prepared to take notes.
Pack a laptop, tablet, notebook, or your phone. Anything you like to use to take notes is essential at conferences. The speaker(s) will likely talk fast and swiftly click through their slideshow presentation.
Recording as many notes as you can will help you revisit and absorb the information later. Plus, you may forget creative or helpful tips if you spend all day at a conference. Having the notes for a future time will come in handy.
6. Don’t eat alone.
If the conference serves breakfast, snacks, or lunch be sure to sit with others while you eat. Eating alone signals others that you’re not interested in networking. Seek out and appreciate every opportunity to connect with others. Discuss the presentation so far and ask how they are interpreting the information. Be sure to see if they have tips about things that work for their businesses.
Do whatever you can to connect with other guests to get the most out of your time at the conference. You may pick up useful skills and resources just by striking conversations while you eat.
7. Accept the gift bag.
Many conferences end with a parting gift to the attending guests. For some, it’s a t-shirt or water bottle, but at others it might be a bag full of goodies. If the latter is the case, accept the gift. Inside you might find informational packets with extra content you can bring back to the office.
Some conferences send their guests off with paper copies of the slideshow presentation, tips for business strategies, and/or ways to connect with customers. These gifts are absolutely invaluable. Accept free resources when you can, for they may come in handy later.
8. Attend the after-party.
Many conferences have a scheduled after-party. Go. Even if the day was long and you’re ready for bed, push yourself to attend the after-party. This is the time when the speaker(s) is available for one-on-one interactions. You get an extra opportunity to discuss your specific business obstacles and gain insight from the professional(s).
Don’t worry about seeming inexperienced. Even if you are, feign confidence and ask your questions. The speaker(s) will be glad you decided to join in on the after-party fun and will likely offer you frank advice. This advice is invaluable. Don’t pass it up!
Attending a conference is a phenomenal experience. Not only will you have countless networking opportunities, but you will leave with more information than you came with and have more experience in your background.
If there are conferences you are interested in attending, be sure to see if your company will pay. If the content of the conference directly relates to your profession, your employer may cover the cost to travel and buy your ticket. This is an added bonus and is invaluable to you as an employee.
Remember: always ask questions, network, and take notes. From novice employees to masterful professionals, these skills never fade. Use them!