Your leadership team has approved your time away from the office. Your conference ticket purchase has gone through. Now what? If you are a first-time conference attendee, you may be feeling excited and a little nervous.
Below, you will find the top SIX tips for attending your first-time conference. After you attend your first conference, you will feel much more confident going to your second!
Know Your WHY
Why are you attending this conference? Are you looking to gain knowledge, network with peers or develop new business? Make sure your WHY is clear in your mind. Conferences are not cheap! Understanding your WHY is the first step to getting the most for your money.
Ex: There is an upcoming HR conference. You are an HR Generalist and your leader has approved you to go to the conference for professional development. WHY is this a good development opportunity? This is the question you should be asking yourself. What skills will this conference help you develop?
Prepare In Advance
Once you get to the conference, it moves fast! You will find tons of people moving in several different directions. Planning is critical for a successful conference experience. This is step #2 after clarifying your WHY. Hop on the conference website and review the agenda, tracks, topics, and speakers. Often, there are several sessions that occur at one time. So, you will have to pick and choose.
Ex: You are the HR Generalist and your WHY is to develop into an HR Business Partner or Manager. You need further development in influencing without authority and leadership skills. Your organization is also looking for ways to reduce attrition as retaining employees has been a struggle. You will look for sessions on HR development, leadership skills, performance management, hiring, and engagement. Topics such as global HR, compensation, employment law, etc. may not be as valuable to you right now.
Organize Your Day(s)
Many conferences are multi-day events. This means, you are planning out several days in advance. Often, attendees are given access to apps that help you create a schedule. If you don't have access electronically, use old fashioned pen and paper or plug sessions into your personal calendar. Don't forget to include breakfast, lunch, and dinner!
Ex: You are the HR Generalist attending a three day event. Plug each session you plan to attend into your work calendar. Don't forget to include the relevant speaker, topic, and room location details. A benefit to using your work calendar is that your organization can see where you are and that you are currently "busy."
Establish Your Business Plan
Most likely you are attending the conference with plans to share your take-a-ways with others - possibly your leader, team, organization or mentor. Think about how you plan to share your take-a-aways and take notes accordingly.
Ex: Upon your return from the conference, put together a presentation to share. Or, show others how you plan to implement key learnings into your developmental action plan. If your company is funding your first-time conference experience, articulate the value you gained and share your plans for implementing it individually and more broadly across the organization.
Make The Most Of Every Minute
Warning: Conferences are tiring! You do a lot of walking, a fair amount of talking, and plenty of sitting. You may be tempted to sleep in and skip breakfast or grab a bite to eat and catch up on email in the corner during lunch. Try and be as present as possible. Take every opportunity to talk to people around you and ask questions.
EX: During breakfast, sit next to strangers and engage them in conversation. Ask them where they are from and what they do. These strangers may become part of your professional network. They may have valuable backgrounds for your professional development. They may have experience and insight that can help you solve your business challenges. At the very least, they may simply be interesting and offer you conference advise!
After the conference is over and you return home, pull out all of the business cards you received. Pull out your notes on notable sessions and speakers. Take the time to follow up with everyone you want to thank, connect with, and set a meeting with. It's too easy to get home and let work suck you back in - making the conference a distant memory.
EX: Reach out the presenters that were impactful. Connect with them on LinkedIn and send them emails thanking them for their time, expertise, and ideas. Imagine if someone follows up with you? It makes a difference!
We hope these tips are helpful! One more suggestion... Wear comfortable shoes! Do you have any first-time conference attendee suggestions that you would like to share with us? We would love to hear them!
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