Getting the Most Out of Conferences & Conventions
For many people, September means back to school, leaves starting to fall and time to start pulling your sweaters out of the back of the closet. For business travelers, this means the beginning of conference season. In North America, September and October are the busiest months for conferences and conventions. Heading out on the road to meet your industry peers while unprepared can be a waste of your time and your company’s money.
Conventions can be overwhelming. What can I do to help make the best use of my time?
Planning makes all the difference. If you are attending an event with lots of choices of break-out sessions, review the agenda in advance to determine which sessions you want to attend. If there is a tradeshow, review the exhibitor list to identify which vendors you want to visit. When others from your office will also be at the convention, make your break-out and tradeshow plans with them so you are not overlapping and then you can compare notes afterwards. If you have time, get to know the conference venue so that you can spend your time between sessions networking with other attendees rather than trying to look at a venue map.
I meet lots of people at conferences. I need some help remembering them.
This is a tremendously common issue and one where an old school tool can come in handy – business cards. While we live in an electronic age, the old school business card can help you with some of the small details. After you meet someone and exchanged cards, try to find a moment to make a few notes on the back of that person’s card – what you talked about or a personal detail. Each evening, go through the cards you collected during that day and review the cards, the names and your notes on the back. The act of writing it down, and then reviewing it again that night will help commit the person and their details to memory.
Should I focus on the people or the content?
This is a classic conference conundrum, and will vary based on your role and the type of the event you are going to. Do make sure that you prioritize which sessions are most important to you, but for many people, the interaction with your industry peers can be the most value part of conferences. It is easy to get into the trap of interacting mostly with your colleagues or those in the industry that you already know. Be social and try to meet new people. This can be tricky for some, but there are some low key times when it can be easier to strike up a conversation – such as talking to those near you while waiting for a session to begin. The instinct for many is to spend that time on their phone checking emails, but this can be a great opportunity to make new industry contacts. Once you’ve broken the ice prior to the session starting, you can then share your thoughts about the session when you are walking out of the meeting room.
Conferences are often in fun cities. Should I bring my spouse?
Las Vegas and Orlando are two of America’s biggest conference cities, and both of those cities provide plenty of leisure activities and distractions. While this might be appealing to your spouse or children, having them with you can be a distraction in itself. With the exception of select events where spouses are encouraged to attend, its best to have your loved ones fly in once the conference is over, and you can extend your stay.