1. Be prepared
You are going to a conference to learn, so take the necessary tools with you – don’t count on the facility or conference to provide. This includes a pen, paper, sticky notes, highlighters. Have electronics? Don’t forget your charger and know that you may have limited access to power during the day. Don’t rely on a conference bag or that it will be useful for keeping organized. Bring a bag where you can keep your important papers, easily access business cards and keep gum, snacks, a water bottle or whatever you need to get yourself through the day.
2. Read the Materials
Take time BEFORE the conference to learn the logistics of the event and the content being offered. Highlight the sessions you are most interested in attending. Have a backup in case your first choice is full, or you go to a session and find out it doesn’t meet your needs. Make sure you know about any ancillary activities or social media that will be in place.
3. Dress for Success
Remember that going to a conference isn’t time off – it may be time on! You could be meeting a future boss. Dress for learning success as well. Wear comfortable shoes for walking from session to session and dress in layers to adapt to rooms that are too hot or cool.
4. Have a Plan
Think about what you want to accomplish during the conference. This could be information you want to learn, skills you want to improve, questions you want answered, people you want to meet, resources you want to learn about. Write down these goals and hold yourself accountable for them at the end of the day.
5. Leave Work at Work
With today’s technology it is getting more and more difficult to be “away.” Responding to calls during the breaks or during lunch makes you inaccessible for networking. Checking email during the sessions distracts you from hearing the important information being relayed or actively participating. By not being 100% present at the conference you are greatly reducing your return on investment and you should really just stay at the office. Tell your staff that you can’t be disturbed but will check your email at designated times.
6. Be Engaged
Raise your hand, volunteer, ask questions, participate in activities. Take an active role in your learning and your experience. If you are with a group from your office, know when to separate from them and when to use the time to build relationships.
7. The Conference Doesn’t End at the End
Revisit your notes and action items. Don’t let all the knowledge you obtained disappear in a manila folder. If you promised to follow up with someone, do it. Share the information you learned in a staff meeting or special presentation.