In the meetings world, we tend to use the word attendee and participant interchangeably. But they are very different words. To attend means to show up. A participant, however, takes part or is involved in something. Why would anyone plop down a registration fee, pony up big bucks for travel and lodging to just show up? Here are some ideas on how you can get the best return on investment at your next conference:
- 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 to be answered, people you want to meet, or resources you want to learn about. Write down these goals and hold yourself accountable for them at the end of the day.
- Read the Materials Take time BEFORE the conference to learn the logistics of the event and the content 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. If the conference offers an app, make sure to download it and learn all of the features available to you.
- 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, whatever you use to take notes. Have electronics? Don’t forget your charger and know that you may have limited access to power during the day. Instead of relying on a conference bag, bring a bag where you can keep your important papers, easily access business cards and keep gum, snacks, a water bottle and anything else you need to get yourself through the day.
- Dress for Success Remember that going to a conference isn’t time off – it may be time on! You could be meeting a business connection or 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.
- Leave Work at Work With today’s technology it is getting more and more difficult to be “away.” Responding to calls during breaks or lunch causes you to miss invaluable networking opportunities. Checking emails during the sessions distracts you from actively participating and learning. If you’re not 100% present at the conference you are greatly reducing your return on investment and you might as well just stay at the office. Tell your office and or/clients that you won’t be available but will check your email at designated times.
- Raise Your Hand Volunteer, ask questions, participate in activities. Take an active role in your experience. If you are with a group from your office, know when to break apart from them and when to use the time to build relationships
- The Conference Doesn’t End at the End Revisit your notes and action items. Don’t let all the knowledge you gained disappear in a folder. If you promised to follow up with someone, do it. Share the information you learned in a staff meeting or special presentation.
Written by Laura Kesselman, CMM