10 Tips to Maximize Your Conference Experience

You might as well call me a conference junkie. In the past five years, I’ve attended countless conferences. Every year, I commit to attending at least several conferences mainly because it helps me to learning, grow, and connect. I understand this is not a small investment so I want to ensure that this will pay off dividends.

maximize conference experience

 

As an aspiring author and speaker, I also am learning what it takes to be a global leader and speaker.  After attending many conferences, I realized conferences are what you make of them. Here are my top ten tips on conferences and how to make them more valuable and engaging experiences.  

Before the Conference

Set SMART Goals for the Conference

Why are you attending the conference at first anyways? Think about what you hope to gain from your entire conference experience. Use the SMART (specific, measure, achievable, realistic, and time-bound) elements to craft your goals. You may want to consider your goals for specific information you want to obtain, number and type of people you want to connect, specific questions you hope to have answered etc.

Review, Research and Connect with Speakers

Several weeks prior to your conference experience, I suggest that you Google all the speakers to learn more about their professional background, expertise, interests. Short-list key speakers you really want to connect. To increase your chances of meaningful connection, I suggest you send a personalized e-mail to the speaker. I have used this tactic in many of my conference visits and this helped me secure to meet with well-known speakers. You can DOWNLOAD this e-mail I used to recently introduce myself to a speaker and scheduled a time to connect. Finally, create a list of pointed questions you want to ask the speaker.

Consider Volunteering to Save Money          

Take initiative by volunteering at conferences so you can waive most of the conference fee, if not all. The upcoming Christian Leadership Alliance (CLA) conference I’m attending costs around $800 (member) and $900 (non-member). However, I’ll be paying only $200. Here’s how I did it. This specific conference provides scholarships for “future leaders” which waived 80% of the entire conference fee.  I would simply sign up a form explaining how I plan to maximize my conference experience.   For an extra one-day pre-conference session, I discovered if I volunteered as a moderator, they would waive the entire pre-conference session fee. This means another free $200 for a great learning experience.

Prepare a World-Class Elevator Pitch

Write a brief, compelling elevator pitch to spark interest in what you do. This will help you create a more memorable impression with the people you connect. A good elevator pitch should last no longer than short elevator of 20 to 30 seconds, hence the name. Remember that elevator pitches should not only be interesting, but also memorable and succinct. I’m currently working on my elevator pitch which is the following:

“My name is Paul Sohn. I’m an organizational development specialist, intentional leader, and blogger. I equip, connect, and transform the next generation leaders and organizations into kingdom-minded influencers.

To learn more about how to write a world-class elevator pitch, click HERE.

During the Conference

Create a Research List

After an entire of intense day of learning at the conference, you probably will experience a brain fry. You’ll come across emerging trends, new theories and concepts. Make a research list during sessions and workshops for thoughts, buzzwords, or acronyms to review later.

Write Copious Notes

Take copious notes. This will help you make key associations with your conference experience later on. Whether you want to use bullet points, mind-mapping, or free writing – I suggest you select the most comfortable and familiar method of writing. The key points may not have to make much sense. You want to gather your thoughts after the session to create a more meaningful note.

Make New Friends

The people you’ll be connecting with most likely have similar interests whether that is blogging, leadership, writing, business etc. Take time to be authentic when you introduce yourself. Try not to ‘exploit’ other person’s resources or experiences but rather approach him or her as a fellow human being. The more you ask genuine questions about them and curious about their lives, you’ll find yourself making new friends. I’ve met many like-minded people that I still connect to this day after attending conferences.  

Pace Yourself

Immersing yourself in a conference for an entire day is quite honestly exhausting. After an entire day of learning, observing, and connecting, you’ll find yourself fatigued. This sounds common sense but be sure to get good sleep, eat right to keep your energy up and take some time outside to take some breaks. Don’t overwhelm yourself by overdoing it. As much as you want to reap a high ROI, you also are there to enjoy the atmosphere.

After the Conference

Follow Up is a Must

Create a list of people you’ve connected during the conference at start investing your time in building ‘genuine’ relationships by sending them e-mail (or better yet, a handwritten note) telling them how much you enjoyed talking with them and plan for future discussions. For speakers, you also may want to ask for slide decks which will help you remember key points during the conference.

Write a Blog Post

If you are a blogger like me, start sharing key insights you’ve learned on the blogosphere. This will not only help you share valuable insights with your followers, but also the chances of your memory retained will increase significantly.  

Question: What strategies have you used to maximize your conference experience? 


  • Speaking of Conferences Paul, I just attended one this weekend that I help to plan with a great friend of mine. He was the main speaker at the conference and he had a few other speakers. It was great just to see him do a great job and provide value. I was able to maximize my experience by helping others have a great event experience.

    • Hey Lincoln, yes, I saw your FB picture you posted. Seems like it was a great event. I’m flying over to California today for the conference I’ll be attending tomorrow. Are you planning to attend the Chick-fil-A Leadercast this year as well?

      • Hey Paul, yes it was a great event and Absolutely I will be at Chick-Fil-A Leadercast this year. Are you attending a simulcast of it near you?

        • Absolutely, will be attending the Chick-fil-A Conference. One of the conferences that has the best ROI!
          Just completed my 2nd day at CLA conference, and tomorrow’s my final day. Really great leadership material I’m learning.

  • Great tips on maximizing a conference Paul. I make sure to attend at least one conference a year. Your idea about volunteering is golden, I’m going to implement it so I can attend more conferences.

    • What were some of the best conferences you’ve attended in the last several years Dan? I’m leaving tonight to Anaheim to attend the Christian Leadership Alliance Conference. Looking forward to it very much. The Chick-fil-A Leadercast is coming up very soon.

      • A John Maxwell conference, Ken Blanchard workshop, and a marriage conference. Ya, I’m going to try to attend the Chick-fil-A leadership satellite location. Have a great time at your conference.

        • That’s awesome. I’ll be attending the simulcast as well. The line of speakers are amazing. Can’t wait to learn new tools to expand my leadership arsenal. The most important thing of course is internalizing the tools and applying it as a discipline.

  • DS

    It’s not just the event planners and speakers who need to prepare to attend a conference – but the participants as well. I love the attitude you reflect Paul of getting ready to attend. It’s an investment of time & resources, and these are great ways to maximize your experience. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

    • You’re absolutely right David. The best participants do their homework to capitalize their conference experience. So far, the conference has been nothing but amazing. Really good material on leadership. I hope there were more people around my age though.

  • Some great tips here, one question though, why is it that writing “you can DOWNLOAD this email” catches their attention? Doesn’t it make it look like junk mail? I’m very curious about this because I love attending conferences and the follow up with the speakers is always a struggle for me. Thank you

    • I didn’t mean the title of the email to the speaker should be “you can DOWNLOAD this email” but if you actually click on the link I hyperlinked, you’ll see an email I wrote to a speaker at the conference. Generally, I would chat with the speaker and introduce myself prior to the conference. If I’m not able to I would then connect with the speaker at the conference and leave a strong impression. After this, I can follow up with a ‘thank you’ e-mail and share specific things I’ve learned from the speaker. This makes it ‘less’ spammy and more meaningful and relevant.

  • Great post! My wife and I have been volunteering at the Orange Conference in Atlanta for 6 years now. We personally assist one of the speakers, and in return we get free admission and meals. We love it. One thing I would add to your post, Paul, is that I try to make posts on social media two weeks prior to the conference. This prompts interaction with speakers and attendees. Then I try to connect with a few of those people while at the conference.