Tick Tock: 7 Ways to Max Out Your Conference Attendance

by Shonali Burke on April 8, 2010

Time is your most valuable and only non-renewable resource.

Today is fleeting with every tick of the clock (image: Chris Metcalf, Creative Commons) and, well, tomorrow may not get here.

Attending professional conferences, conventions and meetings are good ways to connect with clients, vendors and potential new clients among other things.

But conferences can be among your largest wasters of time and money if you don’t plan properly.

To make the most out of conference experiences, you need to be strategic, just as you are in every other aspect of your business.

Conferences are typically packed with sessions, workshops, receptions, panels, keynote speakers, banquets, happy hours and so on. Pre-planning is a necessity if you want to get the most out your time there.

1. Figure out your objectives for attending

Conferences are expensive. You have to pay registration, hotel, travel, food and other associated costs such as a dog walker or kennel, extra childcare and trip preparation. You can’t afford to go there and come back empty-handed.

Before you register, ask yourself: how does attending this conference help me to meet my objectives for this year? Are there other conferences that won’t cost as much and will give me the same benefit?

2. Make a plan

Reading is fundamental” is as true today as it was when the famous literacy campaign began in 1966. Many conferences email materials to attendees ahead of time, so if you don’t have the option to pre-register for sessions, be sure to make a schedule for yourself.

You don’t want to waste time walking the halls, trying to figure out what is going on where and whether or not you should attend.

3. Take care of yourself

Be sure to schedule time for on-your-own-meals, work you need to do, rest and exercise. There are only so many hours in a day and you need to eat, sleep, work, attend sessions, network, check on things at home and so on, don’t overdo it.

Pace yourself.

4. Attend the social events

The parties, happy hours, receptions, dinners and brunches are as valuable as any session if not more so. Go to the events, armed with your elevator pitch, business cards and a smile. Be prepared to start conversations with strangers and politely jump into group discussions.

Good networkers are ready to offer advice, as well as ask for support.

5. Test ideas

Conferences are meccas for the pioneers, innovators and rock stars of your field. Take a few extra minutes at a book-signing or after the workshop to bounce an idea off of someone. Get different perspectives on a idea by holding an informal focus group with colleagues during breakfast or a coffee break.

6. Do CASE studies

If imitation is the greatest form of flattery then CASE studies are the best thing since sliced bread. Copy and steal everything is the premise of utilizing an organization’s or person’s best practices and infusing them into your enterprise.

Good ideas make the world go ’round; using them makes it go ’round easier.

7. Follow-up, follow-up and follow-up

Email, call, tweet or write a letter. Use all of the business cards you collected to remind people who you are, where you met and how you two can work together.

Most importantly, have fun at the conference. Relax, enjoy the change of pace and look forward to your future as the “rock star” at next year’s conference.

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Shannon Mouton is the social media and mobile marketing manager for an online higher education institution. She is passionate about utilizing social media for the greater good, information sharing and networking. Shannon has nearly 20 years of community building, outreach and relationship marketing experience. She is the owner of The Mouton Group, a real estate investment firm, and a principal at Topaz Consulting, a public relations and marketing consulting enterprise. She serves on the board of directors for the In Series and a regular volunteer at Calvary Women’s Services. Her blog, Shannon Sez So, examines life, its joys, pains and idiosyncrasies. Shannon is also a contributor to Gridiron Gals, as a die-hard fan of the Washington Redskins. Contact her on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.

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