Four Ways to Get the Most Out of Attending a Conference

We’re entering conference season again, and although I won’t be participating much this year as I’m nearing the no-fly zone in my pregnancy, I’ve been thinking a lot about all the droves of folks who will be attending conferences in the next few months.

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Whether you’re a newbie looking to maximize your first conference experience, or a seasoned pro trying to see if you can take your conference attendance to a new level, here are some key tips to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your conference experiences.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

If there is one piece of advice I can offer, it’s this. Do your preparation. There is absolutely no reason to spend time and money on an event that you’re not going to think about at all until you show up and are rifling through badges trying to find your name. Do your preparation and you have a one gazillion percent higher chance of getting out of the conference what you want.

Plan What Talks You Want to Attend

To prepare well, you’ve got to not just have all your business cards in order and your outfits planned. You’ve got to review the schedule and roughly plan what talks you want to attend. Sure, things will change at the last minute as you hear recommendations from other attendees, but having a rough outline going in is essential.

Make a List of Who You Want to Meet and Reach Out to Those People Beforehand

This is the key component of planning that should never (never!) be forgotten. Make a list of the folks that you want to meet, and take the time to reach out to each and every one of them beforehand. Although in the real world of busy people asking to “pick someone’s brain” doesn’t work that often, in a conference setting where folks are pinned in the same event hall for a couple days, you do have a higher chance of getting a YES. Try your hand at as many asks as you can to build up your coffee roster.

Sleep!

No really. You need your energy. Recently I was reading an email from a friend of mine about her first experience at Davos and she was saying how she didn’t sleep for 7 days. If you think this might happen to you, prepare your body ahead of time so you can handle it.

With these four tips, you’ll be better prepared to face the exciting, overwhelming world of breakfast buffets and keynotes galore.

What other tips do you have to create a successful conference experience? What do you do to maximize your time at an event?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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11 thoughts on “Four Ways to Get the Most Out of Attending a Conference

  1. Thanks Claire, nice post.

    I was a little disappointed you did not mention Tweeting from events, maybe because I was looking for some pearls in that department. You may have commented on this loads in the past, but would you take a look at this brief guide we have compiled and let us know if anything screams at you as a gap?

    Adding value to global health-related events: Eight simple Twitter tips
    http://bit.ly/inisnews_11_13

    It has been pretty popular among global health Twitter newbies, so we are about to turn it into a short animated video. A brief comment on the page or by email would be much appreciated.

    Thanks a million! Tim

  2. I love attending conferences. They are a good outlet to track trends. These are great tips and steps that I have followed through my career. I would add one more tip – women – wear flat shoes! Walking on carpeted cement floors does not offer much support.

  3. Hey Claire.

    Nice tips there. I’ve a similar situation. I visit a lot of trade shows and exhibitions. I target the companies beforehand and visit them. They’re all CEO level people. When I talk to them, I end up salesy. While my intention is to network with them and Market to them later on.

    This is my first job (just 4 months completed) and I’d really appreciate a little guidance.

    Hope you’ve a nice day. Thank you.

    Sriteja Reddy.

  4. I am someone who has never attended a conference. YOU have saved my bacon with your tips. I am printing this out! I must admit, I am pretty excited too because my conference isn’t until July so I still have plenty of time to prepare. Thank you!

  5. Claire, Thanks for sharing – very good advice!
    You asked what other tips for preparation we may have.
    Here is one: prepare comments and questions that you can ask during the Q&A sessions or panel discussions. Those can be used to showcase your expertise in the area, or a bordering area. Your questions or comments can trigger additional contacts from attendees. (Of course, one shouldn’t “steal” the time, and it is better to ask genuine questions than to make comments.)
    What do you think?

    • That’s a key one. Q+A time is not just a great way to get your questions answered — but a way to stand out from the pack (in both the eyes of the speaker and the other attendees)!

  6. Hi Claire –
    These were some great things to think about!
    This may be a question better-targeted at someone else, but I thought I’d pitch it here, too. I am attending my first writer’s conference (fiction) in a month. Can I use my current business cards for my freelance business (they say writer | editor | photographer, plus contact details, but no social media details), or should I order some more targeted ones for the conference? Newbie here, and would appreciate any advice! Thanks!

    • Hi Abbigail — I think you’ll be fine with the old ones but what would the new ones say? Vistaprint and other services have really cheap (nearly free) cards if you are thinking you need to say something drastically different.

      • Thanks for chiming in, Claire! I think the new cards would add my social media handles and maybe my blog address, and would drop my company logo. I think I probably will order new ones. Thanks so much!