Attending a conference can be one of the best things you can do for yourself and your business. It gets you out of your regular routine, introduces you to new thoughts, helps you meet new like-minded people and so much more.
I have been actively attending conferences, workshops, retreats, etc. since college and I can honestly say I’m hooked and see the value in live events. But if you are going to chose to invest your money in a conference its important that you get the most out of it. So without further ado here are my favorite 10 tips for attending a conference!
#1 Don’t cling to your friends or who you came with.
We all love a security blanket and attending a conference or event with a friend can definitely ease the nerves. But sometimes when we attend these events with people we know we tend to close ourselves off and don’t get to know and network with the other attendees.
When you attend a conference with someone you know I encourage you don’t be afraid to separate from them. Maybe go to a different break out session, eat lunch with someone new or find a big group you both can mingle with. When you do this you are opening yourself to meeting new people, which could lead to new opportunities, relationships, experiences and so much more.
#2 Bring business cards or connect on the gram.
For the love of God, please bring business cards or some piece of contact information! There is nothing worse than when you’re hitting it off with someone that you want to stay connected with, they ask you for your card and you are digging through your pockets dumb-founded to eventually write your name and email on a cocktail napkin.
Don’t be that person! Bring you business cards along and plenty of them!
#3 Spend some time preparing for the event.
One of the best ways to get the most out of your (or your employer’s) money is to do a little preparing before the event. That means doing a little research on the speakers and learning who they are, their background, follow them on Instagram or Linkedin. By knowing who the speakers are that will give you more insight into what their message is and where it came from.
Another way to prepare is to go to bed early the night before and make sure you get a full nights sleep. Then wake up early, eat a healthy breakfast and maybe even exercise. Make sure you are arriving to the conference early and not rolling in 2 minutes before the general session starts with a bagel in your mouth. The more time you take to prepare the smoother the day will go and the more you will get out of the day.
#4 Allow yourself time to debrief.
Just like we spent some time preparing before the event, you need to allow yourself time to process and debrief after the event. Conferences can leave you feeling excited and ready to take action, but it’s important that you give yourself a day or two to rest so you can really soak the good information in.
So leave your schedule open the day after the event, sleep a full 8 hours (or more) after the event that way you can really process what you just learned.
#5 Engage with the other attendees and speakers.
Though a lot of people attend conferences for the content, I think the real magic is in the people you meet. One of my best tips for attending a conference is to spend time engaging with the other attendees and speakers. Conferences are such great opportunities to meet new people, develop relationships that could lead to big things down the road.
So when you sit next to someone you don’t know, take the time to introduce yourself and ask them about themselves. Spend time during the dedicated “networking time” to really walk around the room and network. You don’t have to act like a cheesy car salesman or give your elevator pitch. It’s just about striking up a simple conversation. Below are a few conversation starters if networking makes you nervous.
“Oh, I see you work at _____, what do you do there?”
“Hey, I think you were in my breakout session today! What did you think about the topic?”
“Hi, my name is _____ and I am a big fan of your company!”
“Hi, my name is ____ and I need we are both in the _____ industry – what do you do?”
I could go on for days, but a simple trick is to ask someone about themselves because people LOVE to talk about themselves!
Photo from my senior year of college when I assisted in leading students to the PCMA conference in Chicago.
#6 Be an active listener.
If you are hearing the term “active listener” for the first time and are confused, don’t worry I was too. Being an active listener means you are engaging with someone while they speak and showing them you’re listening. Those are things like nodding your head, smiling, clapping, joining in when they ask for participation.
Being an active listener does 2 things. The first is it sends a message to the speaker that you they are being heard, which energizes them. If you have never spoke in front of a crowd of people, there is nothing more agonizing than a sea of blank faces. Though that normally means the audience is just listening and thinking about what you are saying, to a speaker it can feel like they hate what you’re saying.
But when you stand up and speak in front of a crowd that is nodding, smiling, clapping or yelling “amen!” there is nothing more energizing! And when the speaker feels heard and energized they are going to give an even more impactful speech, thus benefiting the listener.
The second benefit to being an active listener is it helps you retain the information better. Its easy to day dream or let your mind wander during conferences, but active listening keeps you focused on what is happening in front of you.
#7 Let your guard down.
It is really hard to attend a conference and get the most out of it when you constantly have your guard up and aren’t willing to open up. I’m not saying you need to tell your whole life story and share every feeling, but its important to open yourself up to new opportunities, experiences and people because you never know what could come from it.
Something to keep in mind that most of the attendees may have a different goal than you for attending the conference, but you all have a similar reason for being there. People who attend a self-development conference are there to work on themselves. People who attend a networking based conference are there to meet new people. People who attend a business conference are there to learn business. So when you know that everyone is there for the same reason it makes it little easier to let your guard down.
#8 Give honest feedback.
Chances are after the event you will receive a survey, questionnaire or something that is asking you what you thought about the event. This is your opportunity to give honest feedback and you should do that!
Heres why, when you give honest feedback that gives the event planner, conference curator or company that put the event on a better idea of what people like/don’t like so next time they can make it even better for you. When you ignore those surveys or say it was great when you don’t mean it, that doesn’t help anyone. But if you let them know how you were feeling about the event, then they can make the event better next time, meaning you get more out of your money!
Now most people are afraid that they are going to come off as mean, but honest feedback doesn’t have to be mean. You don’t have to say it sucked or you hated it, you can say what you wished would have been different or a way you think it could be even better than it is.
#9 Follow-up with attendees and speakers.
Another one of my many tips for attending a conference is to follow up with attendees and speakers after the event. You don’t need to follow up with everyone, but you should with the people you spent some time talking to or formed a connection with. It can be as simple as sending an email, Instagram DM, text, etc.
I’m also a big fan of hand written thank you cards, especially for speakers whose messages you really loved! By taking the time to follow up with these people it keeps you fresh in their minds and reminds them to stay in touch with you as well.
#10 Develop an action plan when you return.
Once you learn all the content, meet the new people and so on – it’s time to develop an action plan. It can be as simple of developing a plan for implementing one thing you learned each week, month or quarter. Or set some goals you want to achieve before the next conference. Whatever you chose to do, make sure you are taking what you learned/experienced and are putting it to good use.
Those are our tips for attending a conference! Want to hear more tips for attending a conference? Check out our recent post on 4 Reasons To Attend A Conference!