No matter what industry you’re in, if you have ever had to go to a conference or training for work, you have probably been in a situation where you were by yourself and forced to talk to and get to know others attending the program. One of the best “takeaways” from attending conferences is the ability to network, meet new people, find out about other businesses and even make new friends. Not only will you be able to get more out of the entire experience at the conference, but you will also have more fun while you’re at it, as well!
Here are eight tips for getting more out of attending the next work conference you’re scheduled to go to.
Tip #1: Do Your Research. Before you even attend the conference, do some research. Get the agenda, find out more about the speakers (beyond just their topics, find out about their professional background and see if there’s anything outside of their speaking session that might be worthwhile tapping into while you’re there), find out who will be exhibiting, find out if there are social events that you can sign up for in advance and find out how many people are going to be attending and where they will be coming from. Once you have this research done, you can come up with your own agenda about how you might want to approach the work conference and get more out of it.
Tip #2: Go Early and Stick Around. Most conferences have some time before the sessions, between sessions and after the sessions to stick around, meet others, speak with exhibitors and ask questions. Get down to the conference as soon as you can and find someone new to chat with whenever possible. Most people are nervous and scared to talk to new people and probably wouldn’t mind chatting with new people, but wouldn’t be the first person to approach someone new. That might be you as well, but step out of your element. Worst case scenario, you meet a jerk that doesn’t want to talk and you move on. You’ll never see that jerk again and, if so, it’ll be his loss (not yours!).
Tip #3: Fire Up Your Social Media. Utilize Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media outlets throughout the conference. Depending on the size and nature of the conference, the conference may have a Twitter feed, hash tags and other means of connecting with others at the conference. You might even find some contacts in your network are at the event by announcing your attendance at the conference. Also, speakers might appreciate some feedback and comments directly through social media outlets, when appropriate.
Tip #4: Don’t Just Load Up on the Business Cards. Whenever you go to a work conference, you probably load up on your own business cards. That’s not a bad idea. Also, be sure to have business cards that are easy to write on. Dark, glossy cards that you cannot write notes or additional information on are no good. But, beyond dishing out your business cards throughout the conference—to both people you come in contact with, along with exhibitors—collect business cards from others. Also, take notes on the business cards to help you remember people. If you collect a lot of cards, it’ll be hard to remember who is who. Find something that would remind you or find a reason to reconnect with them after (something to send them, something they wanted, something they said, etc.).
Tip #5: Ask Meaningful Questions. Everyone asks that typical questions like, “Where are you from?”, “What company do you work for?”, “What do you do?”. Find some other unique questions to ask people, something that will not only strike up an intriguing conversation, but also something that might make you stand out more to others. This brings us to probably one of the most important questions you could ask others and that is to find out what it is that you might be able to do for them, either personally, or through your company or through your connections. Make it a goal to try and find two or three new people to connect with and reconnect with after the conference with something you talked about.
Tip #6: Skip a Session or Two. Many conferences are jammed pack with agenda items. Main sessions, breakout sessions, sponsored working lunch sessions and very minimal time in between for breaks. This means that more people will be spending time during the session taking notes and paying attention to the speaker. Looking ahead at the agenda, figure out a time when you might take a break from the sessions and actually mingle around the conference location and chat with people. There are several people that do this, making skipping sessions much more fun!
Tip #7: Find a Unique Way to Stand Out. Another thing about conferences is that it can be really easy to blend in with the rest of the crowd. If you’re in the IT business and you’re at an IT conference, you might find that people there look like IT folks. If you’re internet marketing business, you might find that those at the conference are of similar age, look, style, etc. If you’re an attorney at an attorney conference, so on and so forth. Thus, it might make it really difficult to look different and make an impression on people—not so much to impress them in a social stature way, but rather just stand out. Perhaps with a unique jacket, tie, bowtie, shoe color, handkerchief, hairstyle. Find something a little unique that would help others remember or notice you amongst the crowds of people.
Tip #8: Block Off Time AFTER the Conference to Follow-Up and Massage Your New Contacts. Last, but not least, make sure to block time after the conference to do some follow-up after the program. It’s so easy to get back to the office, put the conference materials in the corner and get back into the groove of things. Don’t. Do. This! Block off the better part of a day sometime the week after you get back (the sooner, the better) to follow up with leads and reconnect and engage them once again. The more time you’re willing to spend massaging those new connections, the more you will get out of all of your time and energy (and money) spent at the conference.
While much of this might seem like common sense, think about the last time you went to a work conference? Were you simply attending sessions, taking notes, going back to the hotel room and hopping on a plane to go home? Did you make any connections worth noting? If the answer is no, then take one or two of these tips and try them the next time you attend a conference. Who knows, the next person you meet could become your future coworker, boss, business partner or even best friend, partner or soul mate. You just never know…
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