Depending on how you view them, work conferences can either be wonderfully productive or a horrible waste of time that keeps you away from your family. However, when viewed objectively, most people would agree that attending conferences is a great way to stay up on the latest industry trends, network, lean new skills, and spend time face to face with colleagues from around the world.
If you’re going to spend the money to attend a conference, whether your own or the company’s, you should take the time to plan in advance your conference itinerary so you can get the most out of your experience. Here are five easy steps to keep in mind the next time you need to attend a conference or work related event to ensure you get the most return on your time and money spent.
Identify Your Goals
Before you head off to your next conference, ask yourself why you’re going to begin with and what do you hope to gain by attending. It’s important to outline your goals early so you can then base the rest of your decisions about how to spend your time at the conference accordingly. While setting your goals in advance will help you plan better, don’t think everything has to be set in stone. Allow yourself some flexibility so that if you arrive at the conference and notice something that better serves your goals then what you had originally planned, you can change your itinerary accordingly.
Understand Your Strengths and Weaknesses
It’s common for people at conferences to gravitate towards events and lectures that play to their strengths. But let’s face it, the more experience you have in your field, the less likely you are to get much out of workshops geared toward beginners and intermediates. While sticking to your strengths will usually ensure you’re never the least informed person in the room, you also lose the opportunity to better your skill set by not pushing yourself to learn something new. Instead of enrolling in workshops or attending lectures about content you’re already familiar with, try attending something that covers a topic you know little about, but still applies to your line of work.
Take the time to examine the conference schedule ahead of time so you find who’s speaking and on what. Sketch an outline for yourself of what sessions you’d like to attend and then make a schedule that allows you to hit as many of them as possible. Planning your agenda in advance will also help you keep from losing track of interesting events that you might otherwise forget about once you get caught up in the hustle and bustle of a conference.
Shake Some Hands
While what you learn at a conference can be incredibly useful, who you meet can be invaluable. However, you’re only going to establish useful new connections if you make an effort on finding out who’s going to be there. If you’re going alone to a conference where you don’t know anyone in attendance, try using social media sites to do some pre-conference networking to establish early relationships. If you do attend a conference with coworkers, make it a point to branch out from your comfortable social circle so you can meet new people.
Don’t Overbook Yourself
Even if you feel overloaded with options, remember to be realistic with your time each day. Trying to fit too many things into your day will leave you feeling exhausted and overburdened. Barely staying awake during that 7 AM session you scheduled for yourself probably isn’t the best use of your time if you spend the rest of the day feeling the burdens of getting too little sleep. Make sure you budget time for eating lunch, getting enough sleep, and having a little time away from work for yourself.