This is the another post that follows the theme of becoming conference elite. This idea is a work in progress to hopefully be released as a book in the upcoming months. These posts contain tips, tricks, tools, and items that allow you to get the most out of your travel and conference experience.
When you’re lucky enough to attend a professional conference, usually someone has made quite a large financial investment. Whether it is yourself or your employer, you need to make sure you get the most out of your experience that you can. Usually you’re hit with a ton of information, a lot of late nights, and if you aren’t prepared, you could end up going home and getting stumped when someone asked you “what you learned.” But fear not, the following five tips will help you prepare and get you thinking about an upcoming experience so that not only will you have the best experience possible, but you’ll be able to continue the conversation once you’ve landed (or driven) back to the safety and comfort of your own office.
1.) Back Channel Prep
Something that a lot of people forget to do is your research before you get to the conference. You know who the presenters are, you are starting to plan your schedule, but you might forget one thing, start the conversation NOW! A lot of presenters list their Twitter handles or you can find them on social media. Engage with the conference hashtag (which you should know by now). Start participating and meeting people through these social means. Check to see if there is a Facebook group for people attending the conference. You’ll now have an instantly knowledgeable network that will help you get comfortable and ready to go on your adventure. If you are traveling alone, this experience will help boost you to having a better conference. You can find other “loners” and setup meal plans, adventures around the city, and start that networking opportunity now. By doing this planning ahead of time, you’ll have the confidence to navigate the conference with ease and more than likely have other less prepared folks come to you for help and advice.
2.) Get Uncomfortable
I don’t just mean your back should hurt from those terrible conference chairs. I mean get outside your comfort zone. Some of the most amazing experiences at conferences for me came from when I was forced out of my “business zone” and had to meet new people and be creative. You can already hear the groans when a presenter tells you to stand up, move, or work with the person next to you. It is true, we all hate it. I even still groan initially. However this join hatred creates a bond right from the start. We both already know we don’t want to do this, so we are on the same side. Then the magic happens. Coming up with ideas and working with someone you don’t know anything about gives your ideas super human strength. Some of these challenges or tasks lead to amazing and hilarious ideas. I might complain in the moment, but an amazing thing is created. So suck it up, groan out the “awwww mannnn” and then get to work!
Being a Tech/Gadget guy, I figured I would try a few different ways to take notes during my conference experiences. However, I soon realized that trying to connect to spotty wifi, balance a computer or iPad on my lap, and trying to pay attention just became a major issue. Since I got to mostly creative/design/technology conferences, I needed a way to capture my thoughts, the presenter’s thoughts, and any other stray idea all at the same time. For me, I finally figured it out, and it was right in front of my face – a small notebook. Doodling, taking notes, and just recording your thoughts is so much easier in a small notebook. A lot of presenters share their slides through the conference provider, so spend your time focusing on the ideas and connections, not so much capturing the slides. You will see tons of people holding up their phone and working on getting that solid photo, while missing what the presenter is saying. You also lose the connection between the slide and the information. So what I’ve come to do is is carry around a small notebook, where I have the freedom to capture my thoughts in anyway I see fit. It is lightweight, easy to work on, and then I have that record for later on when I’m trying to remember something long after the conference is over.
If you find a presenter that you really connect with or want more information from, don’t let them just disappear. Network with them! Most presenters are excited to share their knowledge, that is why they are there. Reach out, talk to them, connect on social media, or email. I’ve made some amazing connections with the great folks who work at Adobe because of finding them between sessions and having some amazing conversations. I’m even lucky enough to be brining one of my favorite presenters from HOW Design Live to my work to present this Fall. A tweet, email, or hello is an easy price to pay to gain a network and potentially a mentor to help you through your career advancement.
4.) Expo/Optional Events
If you really want to get the most of your conference experience, you need to take it all in. I’ve already told you to get uncomfortable and push yourself, so why not do so by taking advantage of all the “extra” events going on. This means having a nice visit with the vendors at the expo. There is usually some sort of vendor space and even if you aren’t a decision maker or plan to make any purchases, there are usually great giveaways and you might just happen to make the right network connection. One of the places I made an unusual network connection came from getting my Canon camera cleaned. Due to my remote location, I got talking to a guy who was originally from Michigan. We talked about the sports I shoot and the studio that I run for work. From that experience, I now have a connection inside Canon and a resource if I want to try out new products or get questions answered.
Besides the expo, get up early or stay late and go to the extra events. Everyone attends the normal network sessions when they are at 5pm. However, if you really want to go above and beyond, go network with those at the 7:30am session or the 10:00pm session. These people are just like you. They want to get the most out of the conference and those are the people that you want to connect with!
5.) Business Card Exchange
You can never have enough business cards when going to a conference. These are the prime times to meet and network with others that may not otherwise get a chance. But not only will you have the chance to give out business cards, but you will more than likely collect quite a few as well. Some of the major problems I’ve run into with this is keeping all the cards straight. Who did I actually talk to? What did we talk about? That is where this simple trick came from. Write down some feature about what you discussed on the back of their card. This way, after the conference, when you go to reach out and connect, you can search them out on LinkedIn and also know how to start the conversation instead of it feeling like a completely cold introduction.
Hopefully these steps help guide you to a better conference experience where you feel prepared and ready to go before you even get there. Enjoy!