If you’re like many people, you only attend one conference a year. The dollars and time spent on conferences can add up fast, so it’s important to maximize the experience. Without the right strategy, you can miss out on valuable opportunities, beneficial connections, and fun perks. Here are a few tips to turn your next conference into an event that is meaningful and worthwhile.
Start networking before the event
Is there a compelling speaker you would like to meet? Send an email a few weeks ahead of time and explain how excited you are to hear his or her talk. It’s wise to arrive 15 to 20 minutes before the session starts if you hope to have a chance to meet the speaker. If you’d like to connect with fellow attendees during the show, some conference apps include a list of attendees so you can send a message if you’d like to meet them during the conference.
Prioritize conference sessions
Research who will be there and make a list of the top sessions you would like to attend. If you’re going with other people from your organization, map out which sessions each person will attend to maximize learning opportunities. Look over the session descriptions ahead of time, review the speaker’s blog posts, and prepare to take notes during the presentations.
Visit your must-see vendors first
Don’t wait until the last day to visit vendor booths. You and the sales reps will be fresher and more enthusiastic towards the beginning of the show. Hit your top targets as early into the show as possible, so there is time to follow up with them or someone else on their team.
Remember it’s a marathon
You can expect to be on the run from 8 am to midnight (or later) during the entire show. Be sure to take care of yourself by eating properly, staying well hydrated, getting as much sleep as possible, and refresh with outside walks. Enjoy the donuts and local beer selection, but in moderation.
You don’t have to follow the crowd
Attendees at conferences tend to follow the herd and go to the biggest keynote or flashiest party. Some of the most memorable and informative experiences may be at the less popular sessions or events. Choose activities based on your interests and goals instead of which sessions have the most attendees.
You have left work on the back burner to attend the conference. Set aside a couple of hours a day to address pressing work needs so you can focus on the conference. By leaving those distractions behind, you can focus on networking, learning, and get the most out of the conference.
Remember things usually don’t go as planned
It’s important to prepare for the show, but don’t get upset when things don’t go according to plan. There are inevitable hiccups at any show, so be open to spontaneous opportunities and remember to have fun.