Get More Out of Your Next Conference – 4 Steps That Will Prep You for Success

Kid Dressed as a Nerd, Thumbs UpRecently Helen Brown blogged, “You really should get out more” – and she’s right! So now that you’ve added at least one conference to your calendar for 2014, let me help you make the most of your time out of the office.

Before you Go:

1. Set goals

Set at least one goal for each day of the conference to keep yourself on track. Goals could be to ask a question during an information session, introduce yourself to a speaker you admire, or collect a specific number of business cards. To be sure you follow through, think of a fun reward for achieving your goal like a new book for the flight home, room service, or a glass of wine at the hotel bar at the end of the day, and if you really think you hit it out of the park – go for all three (I know I would!).

2. Reach out to others

Using the speaker and/or pre-conference attendee list (when available) send a quick note to anyone you’d be interested in meeting to let them know you’ll be attending the conference and hope to see them there. Then, if you do see them at the event you can simply walk up and say, “Hi, I’m Megan – it’s really great to meet you in person!”  If you’re too shy to phone or email, use social media or do as this bold networker did, and write a blog post listing the people you’d like to meet.

3. Research the host city

Look for major donors or prospects you can visit in person while in the city to maximize your travel budget (professional development and donor cultivation in one trip). Also be on the lookout for personal sites of interest, this will help with small talk when you’re meeting new people (“Have you been to see <insert site name> yet?”). Bonus points for actually going to the attraction – even if every other aspect of your trip is a disaster at least you can leave feeling like you’ve accomplished something.

4. Weigh your options

Choosing which sessions to attend at a conference could be a blog post in itself. To save on time and frustration I ask myself the following questions to help me decide which sessions are right for me:

  • Which sessions line up best with my upcoming objectives?
  • Which sessions cover areas that I’m trying to personally improve or can help my team improve?
  • Does the career path or experience of a presenter line up with my future plans?
  • Can I create a project/outcome ahead of time that is dependent on the information presented in a session? This helps you listen constructively rather than critically as you will be required to act on what you have learned.
  • For every two sessions that sound interesting is there one session that I wouldn’t normally attend? Conferences are the perfect time to step outside your comfort zone.

Preparing for a conference is just the beginning. Next week I’ll look at what do to once you arrive – I wouldn’t want all your hard work prepping to go to waste! What are your pre-conference prep tips?

By: Megan McMillan

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