How to Make the Most Out of a Conference as an Attendee
Maximize your conference experience with this comprehensive guide. From setting clear objectives and strategic planning to effective networking and post-event follow-up, discover actionable tips to get the most value out of your attendance.
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When our colleague Kyle recently attended Tech Connect Live — Ireland’s largest annual business and technology exhibition for Micro, SME, and Enterprise-level companies — he came back with not just new contacts, but also a feeling that he could have done even more to maximize the experience.
“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” – Carl Jung
According to a study by EventMB, a mere 52% of conference attendees set specific objectives before attending.
That’s why we’ve crafted this comprehensive guide to offer actionable insights for making the most of your conference experience, from diligent pre-conference planning to strategic post-conference follow-up.
The first, and perhaps the most overlooked step, is setting clear objectives for what you hope to achieve. This could range from professional development and learning new skills, to networking with industry leaders or even scouting for potential hires. Setting objectives will serve as your compass, guiding your actions and decisions throughout the event.
Knowledge is power. Familiarize yourself with the conference agenda, the speakers, and the topics that will be covered. Is there a keynote speaker you’re particularly excited about? Are there breakout sessions that align closely with your objectives? Having a good sense of the lay of the land will help you plan your time effectively and target the most relevant sessions and individuals for networking.
Logistics and Scheduling
Nothing ruins the conference experience like last-minute hiccups. Book your flights, accommodations, and any necessary transport well in advance. Many conferences also have their own mobile apps that provide real-time updates, venue maps, and networking opportunities. Download this ahead of time and start marking sessions or activities you don’t want to miss.
Preparation of Material
This is your chance to shine, so come prepared. Whether it’s business cards, an updated LinkedIn profile, or a portfolio showcasing your work, make sure you have all the tools necessary for effective networking. Additionally, consider engaging with attendees or speakers beforehand through the conference’s social media channels. It’s a great way to break the ice and set the stage for in-person interactions.
At the Conference
Conferences are not spectator sports. The benefits are directly proportional to your level of engagement. Ask questions during Q&A sessions, jot down key insights, and don’t shy away from sharing your own perspectives. Active participation will not only aid your learning but also make you more visible to other attendees and speakers.
Arguably the most invaluable aspect of any conference is the opportunity for networking. Some of the best collaborations have been born during conference coffee breaks or evening socials. Allocate time for both scheduled meetings and spontaneous interactions. Remember, networking is not just about collecting business cards; it’s about forming meaningful connections that can foster future collaborations.
Engage Beyond Sessions
Don’t confine yourself to just the talks or panel discussions. Conferences often feature workshops, poster presentations, and vendor areas that offer additional avenues for learning and networking. Diversifying your activities ensures you get a holistic experience and broadens your scope of interactions.
Optimal Time Management
With so much to do and see, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Stick to the itinerary you prepared but remain flexible for unplanned opportunities. Designate time for networking, attending sessions, and also for some well-needed personal time to recharge.
Capture and Chronicle
Taking notes is essential for capturing your learning and experiences. Whether you prefer a traditional notebook or a digital note-taking app, make it a habit to jot down valuable insights, names of people you meet, and follow-up actions.
Post-Conference Action Plan
Your post-conference actions can make or break your experience. Timely follow-ups are essential. Send personalized emails or LinkedIn messages to the contacts you’ve made, expressing gratitude for the interaction and proposing next steps for potential collaboration.
Organize and Review
After the whirlwind of activities, it’s time to sit back and organize. Sort through the business cards, compile your notes, and evaluate how well you achieved your pre-conference objectives. This introspection is invaluable for translating your conference experience into actionable insights.
The conference may be over, but the learning shouldn’t stop. Share your newly acquired knowledge with your team or network. Whether it’s a presentation, a report, or even a series of tweets, disseminating what you’ve learned amplifies the benefits.
Plan for the Next One
Your recent conference experience offers invaluable lessons for future events. Take note of what worked and what didn’t, and start planning for your next conference with these insights in mind.
Being a conference attendee is an art as much as it is a science. It starts with meticulous pre-conference planning, peaks with strategic networking and active participation, and concludes with a structured post-conference action plan.
Conferences are a treasure trove of opportunities, and with the right approach, you can walk away with not just a tote bag of swag, but a wealth of knowledge, meaningful connections, and a renewed sense of purpose in your professional journey.
So the next time you find yourself at a conference, remember: the gold is there for the taking; all you have to do is dig a little deeper.