You just got invited to attend your first professional conference. What awesome news!
A conference is a wonderful way to expand your knowledge and your network. This time away from daily routine can inspire you in many ways and put some pep back in your step.
Conferences can also be overwhelming to first-time attendees.
Here’s my spin on how to make the most of your opportunity to attend a conference.
Determine your plan of attack well before you get to the conference.
It’s easy to get detailed agendas on the conference website. Many conferences have their own apps to make it even easier to game-plan.
I will read through the agenda a few times and lay out my personal plan for the day. Often, popular sessions may be repeated in the schedule. This is helpful to know when conflicts come up and you want to maximize the day.
Always have a Plan B.
Sessions can fill up fast. You can make your way to the right room, only to find out it’s full.
Have backup plans ready. I usually tag at least two sessions for each agenda time window. Sometimes, my Plan B is to go to the conference marketplace or networking area and not an actual learning session.
The trick is to have a plan if your number-one pick fills up. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself frustrated because you’re walking around in circles waiting for inspiration to smack you in the face.
Choose one-presenter formats over panels.
My general experience has been that a session run by one presenter goes much deeper into a topic of interest. Conversations with a panel of experts rarely feel like they go deep enough into anything.
Mix it up and certainly do what you want to do.
But, if you are torn about a panel or a session with one presenter, go for the one with one presenter.
Don’t be swayed by the plans of a co-worker.
This is YOUR learning opportunity. I know if feels a lot more comfortable going into a room of strangers with a friend but get over it. Seriously.
Make your own judgments on sessions. If someone chooses to tag along, cool. But, don’t go to something that doesn’t excite you because you want to have someone to talk to.
Introduce yourself to the person sitting next to you.
Conferences aren’t only about learning, they are about connecting.
The easiest way to meet new people is to simply say hello and introduce yourself to the person you end up sitting next to.
You may make a great connection.
It might just be a pleasant, brief conversation.
Either way, it will make you more comfortable in the conference setting, and it will make saying hello to the next person a little easier to do.
Soak in the experiences!
There’s more to a conference than attending a learning session! Make the time to wander around the floor, check out vendors, play with new technologies, and go to happy hours.
You’re not in a classroom. You’re not slacking by skipping a panel to do a little exploring.
All of these experiences will inspire your brain in new and exciting ways.
Wear comfortable shoes. Seriously.
No matter where the conference is, everything will be spread out. You will be on your feet a large part of the day, and often have only a short amount of time to get from one session to the next.
Save your feet and your sanity by wearing shoes you can move quickly and comfortably in.
Get some extra credit by bringing back a piece of the conference back to the office.
What did you learn that truly inspired you to think differently?
Chances are this information would be a benefit to your co-workers, too.
Why not offer to present what you learned? You can approach it as a “best of” conversation or go deep on a particular topic of interest.
Find a way to share what you learned. You’ll stand out as a person that goes the extra mile—and increase your chances of future conference invitations.