Over the course of my career I’ve had the privilege to attend many industry conferences of all shapes and sizes. The first show I ever attended was Pubcon Vegas way back in the day of 2010. I’m having an amazing sense of coming full circle as this week I’ll be presenting at a Pubcon event in Austin, TX and it just seems a bit surreal.
It’s no secret that attending a conference is expensive. Why else do you think there are a number of shows now creating “convince your boss” packages to help you make the case for your attendance? But getting approval is only half the battle. If you’re doing things right, you’ll no doubt have a packed notebook of ideas to share and test in your own strategies once you return.
I’ve had many different roles at industry shows as I’ve been an attendee, a moderator, and a speaker. All perspectives have been invaluable in understanding what makes a conference impactful and how I can get as much from my time at a show as possible.
So with that, I’d like to share with you my strategies for making a conference as impactful and enjoyable as possible.
Decide Your Personal Agenda:
All conferences have their agendas published well before the shows. These usually include a series of tracks, topics, and descriptions to help you identify what’s the most meaningful to you.
Before each show, I like to review the agenda in a number of ways and prioritize sessions accordingly:
- Current job responsibilities
- Future interests
- Amazing speakers
Start by choosing the sessions you should attend based on your current job responsibilities. Odds are you’re being sent to the show to get better at what you do, so that should be your first priority.
Once you’ve marked those sessions, now go back through and identify areas of personal growth. Are there topics that interest you but aren’t part of your current job duties? Are there topics that are closely related to what you do, but not necessarily under your purview? If they fall during a time when you’re not planning on attending a session aligned with your current duties, attend that session. You’ll be opening your mind and potentially finding out of the box ways to improve your performance.
Lastly, fill your open session times with people you’d like to see speak. Odds are you know a number of people in your industry that are either speaking on something that doesn’t relate to you or their discipline are a bit different. These people are amazing to listen to.
I cannot overstate the importance of a great speaker. Even if the topic is totally off base for you, you might be surprised at how frequently you can have some high-level takeaways simply from listening to the titans of their respective industries.
No Working at the Conference:
It’s not always easy, but try to work as little as possible during the conference. You’re there for only a short period of time to learn and absorb as much as you can. Anything that’s not time sensitive, postpone until you get back.
If you manage client accounts, this can be a bit trickier. Be sure you communicate with clients ahead of time that you’ll be out, but give them a way to get in contact with you or a teammate if there’s an emergency. In my book, being at a conference is nearly the same as being on vacation, just with a different set of priorities.
Engage with Speakers:
I know many folks are a bit shy about engaging with speakers. I certainly was at the first couple of shows I attended.
But now being a speaker myself, I can tell you that I love engaging with the audience on a more in-depth level.
Whether it’s a group Question & Answer segment, or simply coming up to a speaker after a session, engaging with speakers is both good for you and for us.
When people come up to me after a session. There is only so much I can convey during my 17-45 minutes in front of a group of people. Speakers a good amount of time on their presentations trying to make sure they’re providing valuable information, but also trying to make it usable by nearly everyone in a room. It’s not an easy needle to thread.
Asking questions after a session can allow you to get some more specifics about your unique case, but also gives the speaker an idea of what their audience finds important.
Only rarely have I encountered speakers who don’t want to have these types of discussions, but you can also usually spot them pretty quickly. More often than not, you’ll find speakers who are more than happy to have a short discussion with you about your scenario and help you find opportunities. After all, if we didn’t like having these conversations, we probably wouldn’t be speaking in the first place.
Do All the Things:
Plan to attend everything. Seriously. Go to all the happy hours, all the welcome events, everything. Yes, if it’s not your normal routine, you’ll probably be pretty tired by the end of the week, but it’s worth it.
These events are where you’ll get to have decent length conversations with other attendees and speakers on just about any topic. If the information you learn during the conference is the most important thing you take away, these relationships and conversations are a close second. Long story short: be social and make friends!
I cannot tell you how important getting feedback is to conferences and speakers. Everyone’s goal is to make the show as impactful for attendees as possible, so your final job of the week is to tell us how we’ve done.
Whether it’s through an app, on social media, or through some other route, take a bit of time and review the sessions, speakers, and the show you’ve experienced so future shows can be made even better.
Keep Clear Notes w/ Annotations:
Whether it’s in a Word doc, Evernote, or something else, keep all your notes in one place that’s easy to use and reference. This will help you keep things straight during the show itself, but will also be a godsend when you get home.
Additionally, focus on writing things down the speaker says or a specific idea you have. Nearly every show now makes the decks available after the show. If they don’t, odds are the speakers themselves are posting them on SlideShare. What you should focus on writing are the words the speaker uses that strike a chord or the specific idea you have about your own retargeting strategy because of something someone said. These are the things you can’t get back without having a near-perfect memory, so they’re more important to jot down than the text on the slides themselves.
Have a Post Game Strategy:
After a show, it’s easy to let your enthusiasm wane and your regular work schedule take over your consciousness. Fight this with every fiber of your being. Yes, you do have to get back to work. But there are a number of things you should find on your task list to maximize the impact of the show. Here are just a few suggestions:
- Review your notes for all the goodies you walked away with.
- Create a list of takeaways you can tie back to specific strategies you can implement in your work.
- Connect with attendees and speakers you met on social media or via email.
- Put together a summary of your takeaways for your boss and team to learn from.
- Seek out additional information on the new areas you learned about in the sessions with tangential topics and leading speakers.
Make sure you’re getting every ounce of learning you can from these shows if for no other reason than your boss will want to know why they should send you to the next one. If you’ve done your post show work well, this will be a much easier conversation to have.
What are your favorite tips for attending conferences? What do you find the be the biggest benefits of these shows? Share with us in the comments!