March 20, 2018
Professional conferences are an exciting way to gain new knowledge about your field, share the knowledge you already have, and build your professional network. With so many ways to use conference attendance to advance your career, having an understanding of how to get the most out of a professional conference is key to avoiding information fatigue. In preparation for our upcoming Hero Conf Austin 2018, the world’s largest all-PPC conference taking place in April 16-18, I’ve compiled a list of the ways I ensure I get the most out of the professional events I attend.
Most conferences accept open speaker pitches from individual professionals in the industry. A great way to gain visibility (or get a free pass!) is to submit speaker pitches for multiple conferences throughout the year. This can be a daunting prospect, but putting yourself out there has several advantages. You’ll increase your exposure, network with other professionals in your industry, and learn that you know much more than you think about your field. Some conferences have volunteer opportunities as well, which are a good way to dip your toes in the water if you’re feeling hesitant about putting yourself out there.
Review the conference agenda well in advance of the event. By doing this you can learn which sessions are of interests for you, as well as which key experts in your field will be there. Look for the names you know, and identify the names of those you want to know. Researching the “who” and “what” ahead of time will help prepare you for the networking you will do at the event itself. Determine the goals you hope to meet by attending the conference, and identify how you plan to achieve them when you’re there.
Follow the relevant hashtags for the conference leading up to the event, and check out fellow attendees’ social media profiles to get connected early. This is a good way to find out what other people are talking about surrounding the conference, as conference hashtags are generally utilized leading up to and during the event. Find the people you already know and reconnect in advance, so you can go in on strong networking footing. If there are apps for registration and check-in, be sure you have downloaded these ahead of time as well.
Many conferences will hold orientation sessions for new attendees; be sure to get oriented with the venue and the conference structure early, because the hustle and bustle on the primary session days can overwhelm if you aren’t sure where you’re going. Organize your schedule with your own agenda before heading to any sessions. Also, be sure to schedule the “where” and “when” for time to yourself – to reflect and decompress – after sessions and before any schmoozing.
You prepared in advance and determined your goals for the conference. When you choose which sessions to attend, choosing actionable sessions can help you in several ways. If your company is paying for you to go to the conference, it is likely that you will need to justify the expense by providing actionable takeaways to implement upon returning. Even if it is your own dollars spent, you’ll want to utilize your time as a sort of individual training session to benefit your current role. Conferences are costly, and there is no need to feel as though you’ve wasted your time or your dollars in attending.
Whether it is raising your hand to speak up in a small workshop session, or participating in a social media conversation on a conference topic, being part of the greater discussion is another great way to maximize your exposure and stay active as a conference attendee. You are there to learn not only from the panelists and speakers, but also from your peers in attendance with you. Don’t be afraid to exchange business cards with those unfamiliar attendees who caught your attention during these discussions. I suggest setting a minimum number of people to introduce yourself to per day, and holding yourself to it.
You’ve likely taken notes, exchanged business cards, and brainstormed plans for implementing what you’ve learned in your career moving forward. Following the conference, take some time to organize everything you’ve gleaned. I like to do a wrap-up “journal” after I attend professional events, as this gives me a sort of narrative way of organizing my thoughts and getting them all down in one place.
Use the business cards you received and the new social media connections you made and plan a follow up for each point of contact. Depending on the goals you identified for yourself in advance of the conference, these follow-ups may entail sharing, collaborating, or forming business partnerships. Whatever the reason for establishing contact, don’t wait too long to fortify any meaningful connections your made with your fellow attendees.
To demonstrate the actionable takeaways from the sessions you chose to attend, plan to tangibly share what you learned with the rest of your teammates. Form a post-conference discussion with your colleagues who were also in attendance, or present session highlights to the members of your team who stayed at the office while you were away. Showing how the information you learned is useful to your company or career growth is a critical part of ensuring you got the best bang for your buck.
While conferences may be trendy in the current professional zeitgeist, they have plenty to offer you in your career development if you utilize them wisely. Understanding ways to get the most out of your conference ticket can ensure that you’ll have the opportunity to learn and grow from events in the future.