Eight Tips to Master Any Conference

I believe business people can be divided into two groups: those who are energized by conferences and those who are depleted by them. I'm firmly in the first camp. Meeting new people, connecting with old friends, debating hot topics, hearing and amplifying new ideas motivates me. I participate in dozens of conferences each year, as a speaker or attendee.

Many colleagues have asked me how to get the most out of conferences. My guidance focuses on mindset: approach with an inquiring mind and a generous spirit. Here are my eight practical tips:

  1. Be purposeful: Many conferences have a lot going on, not just within the specific parameters of the conference, but also the surrounding events. Be clear on your goals and priorities. Is your goal to get perspectives on the latest thinking and practices? Is it to connect with new people? If your motive is deep learning, prioritize attending the talks. If your goal is to connect with people, spend more time at networking events. Go early to the receptions. In the case of the large scale events with limited capacity at the venues, signing up is no guarantee of admittance to your desired session. Know your goals and plan accordingly.

  • Alert your network: Want to meet your existing connections when traveling to a conference? Don't rely on serendipity. Let others know you are attending. It is a great environment to bond with friends or to meet social media contacts in real life. Tweet out using the conference's hashtag.
  • Ditch the ones you're with: It's tempting to spend the days and evenings with coworkers or companions from your home city. Resist. Resolve to spend as much time as you can muster meeting new people.
  • Ask questions to give and to get: At any big conference, there are inevitably a lot of lines. Don't waste that time consumed by your mobile devices. Talk to the people in the queues. Conferences are not the place to be coy about your expertise or reserved with your questions. Curiosity is your best friend. With so much disruption caused by technology and changes in business models, it is impossible to have all the answers. Your ability to frame the right questions is the best indicator of your ability to give and get the most from any event. Of course, have your own elevator pitch down. What's your business purpose? How can I help you? Be clear and concise.
  • Prepare to disengage, gracefully: With so many people to meet, time is your most precious resource. Aim to leave conversations politely. A graceful phrase to use: "It was great to meet you. Enjoy the rest of the show." If appropriate, reiterate that you look forward to following up with a connection, or on another topic you spoke about. If desired, pass along your business card.
  • Be visible and generous with social media: Most attendees will be watching the Twitter stream for updates and insights from the event. Tweet from the sessions to increase your visibility. Remember to retweet others and follow attendees and speakers you want to meet. Filter your feed using hashtags. For more experienced Twitter users, platforms like a Hootsuite offer elegant ways to generate lists of people to follow and options to filter the incessant stream.
  • Take pictures and videos: Capture and post pictures of what inspires you to your preferred social platforms--Instagram is a popular option. Vine, the six-second video app, is an easy way to post videos and share on Twitter and Facebook. However, be careful not to miss events because you are "curating" images.
  • Don't neglect following up: It may sound cliché, but the real benefit of attending conferences comes long after the event via engagement with the connections you've made. Diligent follow up will set you apart and empower you to reap long-term rewards from attending. Connect on LinkedIn and follow on Twitter. If you said you'd send more information or make an introduction, keep your promise.
  • When it comes to forging relationships, there is no substitute for meeting people face to face. Conferences can provide a powerful forum for doing this at scale. Whether you loathe them or relish them, I hope this post provided you some tips to get the most out of attending business conferences. Tweet me your tips: @MargaretMolloy