6 Ways to Get the Most Out of Attending a Conference

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This past weekend I attended Podcamp Toronto. It was an amazing weekend, in part because of the people who were there and in part because I had a plan. I went into the weekend knowing what I needed to get out of the event and how to get it. My personal event strategy is one that can be used for any conference you may attend.checklist 2

1. Choose Your Sessions

Unlike some conferences, at Podcamp you didn’t have to register for individual sessions ahead of time. Even so, I spend a good bit of time looking over the sessions and the speakers. Before I got there I had a list I really wanted to attend.

However, I didn’t carve that list in stone. I know from past experience that sometimes the best sessions are not the ones I was expecting. So I kept my ears open. There were a couple of sessions I attended solely because some else said the speaker rocked. In each case, they were right. Being flexible about the sessions made for a better weekend.

2. Plan Who To Meet

Registration for Podcamp is public – you name goes on a wiki when you register. There was also a LinkedIn group and Twitter hash tags for the event. In spite of this, I didn’t see anyone who I really felt I needed to meet.

However, I didn’t just throw up my hands. I decided one of my goals for the weekend was to meet five interesting people who I would want to contact later and continue the conversations we had.

Setting this goal was very important for me. Although many people who know me personally may not realize this, I’m actually very shy. My natural inclination is to sit in the back of the room and not speak to anyone unless they speak first.

But setting this goal of people to meet forced me out of my shell. Whenever I sat next to someone, if they looked at all friendly, I started talking: about the speaker, about the weekend, about the weather. It didn’t really matter, it was just to start the connection.

The net result, I have eight people I want to keep in touch with. Not only that, one of those people has already contacted me.

3. Go with a Friend

While attending on your own is okay, going with a partner is even better. There were several times during the weekend when there were sessions occurring simultaneously that I wanted to attend. Going with my friend meant we could see more sessions and compare notes later.

I also got to meet more people than I would have on my own. My friend ran into a couple of women she knew from social media and introduced me. I was able to introduce her to others as well. Being a tag-team meant we could get more out of the weekend.

4. Be Social

Most conferences have some sort of social event – cocktail hour, drinks in the pub, a coffee corner. Go to them! This is usually where the best networking takes place. You can sit down and have a longer conversation than you can between sessions. And because these parts of the conference involve food and drink, everyone is more relaxed. There is something innately human about connecting over a meal.

Remember my comment about being shy? Social events are where having a buddy can really help. I might not (probably not) have attended on my own, but for us shy types, there is strength in numbers. It’s a lot easier to join a group having a conversation when you’re not on your own.

Additionally, because we each have different interests and met different people during the day, we were able to introduce each other to new people in the evening.

5. Implement

While there are many reasons to attend a conference, learning something is usually a main one. But sitting in a lecture or workshop doesn’t do you any good if all you do is take notes. When you get home you need to actually implement some of what you learned.

You don’t have to do it all at once. In fact, you may need a few days just to process what you learned. Reread your notes, debrief with your conference buddy, monitor the conference hash tags to see what others thought, write a blog post. It doesn’t matter what you do, just make sure you spend some time to absorb the material.

Once you’ve decompressed, pick the best and add them to your business. Even if it’s only one or two things, commit to implementing them. It could be adding a new plug-in for your web browser or it could be an entirely new marketing system. It doesn’t matter. Just pick one and vow to add it to what you do. You spent the time and money to attend the conference. Get some ROI on that investment.

6. Follow Up

If you collected some business cards from some interesting people, don’t let them gather dust in the corner of your office. Plan to spend some time in the first few days after you get home connecting. At the very minimum, follow everyone you met on Twitter. If they were interesting enough for you to grab their business card or write down their Twitter I.D., surely they’re worth following on Twitter.

Next, visit their website. Find out a little more about who they are and what they do. You don’t need to check out everyone, just the handful you know you want to stay in touch with.

Finally, in the first week after the conference, make that first real connection. Send them an email, invite them to connect on LinkedIn or pick up the phone. It doesn’t matter. If you had one real conversation with this person make the first move. Trust me, so few people do it, you’ll stand out from the crowd.

Of course, I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will just in case. Don’t send them a sales pitch. Just a brief “nice to meet you”, a reminder of what you talked about and maybe a link to a resource or blog post (by someone else) you think they might find helpful. You started a conversation at the conference. Now you’re trying to keep it going. Later, once they’ve had time to really get to know, like and trust you, is when you can move on to the sales conversation.

If you follow my conference plan, you should get a lot of value out of the next event you attend.

Andrea J. Stenberg

Have you been to a conference lately? What did you take home from the event? How did you ensure to meet the right people? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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