Conferences are one of the best ways to learn new skills. The time and effort required to attend a conference means you will meet with the most driven professionals.
Realizing the benefits of these events require some thought and planning. Follow this twelve step plan to get the most out of your next professional conference.
Pre-Conference Tips To Get ReadyA great conference experience starts before you leave home. If you need to submit a business case to obtain funding to attend the event, these four tips are excellent homework. If you’re spending money out of pocket to attend, these tips are even more important.
1. Budget for the conferenceAs project managers, we know that cost needs to be understood and managed. To properly budget for the conference, you need to cover: travel, lodging, conference fees, and ad hoc expenses such as meals.
Don’t be limited by your employer’s reimbursement policy. It’s worthwhile to set aside some extra money to attend dinners and other social events (see step 6 for more details) even if those expenses are not covered.
2. Identify 5 people to meet at the conferenceEarlier in my career, I thought of conferences as little more than a series of lectures that I could attend. Presentations and keynote addresses are only part of the experience.
Set yourself a conference networking goal to meet at least five people. You can start with meeting the conference organizers and speakers. Most conference programs list sponsors – consider reaching out to these companies as well.
3. Stay at the main conference hotelYour choice of hotel is a significant variable on your conference results. Whenever possible, stay at the main conference hotel. That will put you in the heart of action and increase the likelihood that you will meet other interesting people at the conference.
4. Create your conference scheduleWhat is your agenda for the conference? I recommend creating your own conference schedule: decide in advance which presentations to attend, what training sessions to participate in and so forth. By planning your conference experience in advance, you can avoid the feeling of drifting aimlessly from panel to panel.
During The Project Management ConferenceNow that you've arrived at the conference, it’s time to stay focused on your mission. Aim to have a variety of conversations with people – vendors, keynote speakers, conference staff and more. Whenever you attend a presentation, come prepared to study and learn.
5. Bring a notebook and pensYou are more likely to remember the people you meet if you bring a notebook. A paper notebook keeps you focused on the event. Note taking with your smart phone or computer tends to be ineffective since email is just a few clicks away.
6. Go to at least one partyYes, go to the parties! If you don’t see any parties organized, organized a dinner with two or three other people you met. It’s a great way to deepen relationships (and avoid feeling lonely in an unfamiliar city).
7. Visit with the vendorsWhen was the last time you met with vendors of project management software, training and other resources? If it has been more than a year, you’re overdue for a visit. Take some time to visit with the vendors and learn about their products. Some companies – such as Gartner – offer outstanding industry reports: these are an invaluable resource for you to explore.
8. Sit up front at presentationsBy sitting at the front of the room, you signal your interest in the presentation. You also have a better chance of getting your questions answered when you sit at the front of the room.
If you are uninterested in a presentation’s content, it’s better to spend your time elsewhere. That’s where step 6 and 7 come to play.
Going The Extra Mile After ConferenceConferences are often exhausting experiences. Once you’re home and rested, it is time to continue the conference experience. By committing to these steps, you will set yourself apart from the vast majority of conference attendees.
9. Present on your conference experience at your organizationWhat better way to show you benefited from the conference than presenting on what you learned? If the thought of giving a presentation unsettles you, don’t give up! Instead, write a short report about your experience and email it to your colleagues.
10. Send a thank you note to your favourite presenterWrite a short thank you note to the presenter you learned the most from. Yes, this is old fashioned. Yes, this is extra effort. It’s also one of the best ways to make an impression on someone in our digital age.
11. Look up your new contacts on LinkedInIt’s time to add your new connections to LinkedIn. That’s part of the reason you brought your notebook (see tip 5 above) to the conference. Don’t wait for your new friends to look for you.
12. Prepare documentation for PDUs earnedDid you take a course at the conference for continuing education? Are you interested in claiming PDU credit for the conference? Now is the time to prepare your documentation. File a copy of the conference program, how many hours you spent learning and related information.
Now you have everything you need to make the most out of your next conference. Following these tips shows that you are a serious professional committed to ongoing learning.
Posted by Bruce Harpham