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.
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.
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?