Conferences are a great way to educate yourself on new topics, learn new skills, network with industry professionals and discover new ways to grow your association.
But you’ll only reap those benefits if you know how to get the most out of your attendance. You’ll need to develop a well thought out plan to make sure you don’t waste your valuable time and hard earned money – so where do you begin?
Follow these 10 tips to get the maximum benefit out of each event experience.
1. Make a plan
We’ve all heard the expression, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” That’s why creating a plan will hold you accountable and lead you to success.
Your first step should be setting objectives for attending a conference. For example, if your association is struggling to keep members engaged, you should set a goal to learn more about member engagement during the conference. It could be as simple as attending a guest speaker presentation on engagement or finding a company to partner with that specializes in that area.
Grab a piece of paper and write down three to five goals you want to achieve from attending.
Here’s a few ideas to get you started:
- Find a solution to increase non-dues revenue
- Find an AMS provider
- Connect with five new professionals in your industry
- Generate 15 new leads
2. Create an agenda
After you decide what your goals are going to be, create an agenda of all the activities you want to do that support them.
You’ll have a wide variety of options to choose from – workshops, demonstrations, speakers – but not all of them are going to be useful to you. Go to the events website and search through the list of sponsors, vendors, speakers and workshops to decide which ones to put on your agenda.
As a reference, take a look at the NESAE Annual Meeting schedule. From there, you’re able to see the dates and times for every activity and use the links to get more information.
3. Map out the conference space
Knowing the layout of the conference space is extremely beneficial to the success of your experience. If you’re attending a big event, it can be difficult to navigate the exhibition hall. Finding vendor booths, guest speakers, workshops, and even the restroom is no easy task when you’re in a time crunch.
It will make your experience smoother if you have an idea of where things are located so you won’t miss out on any of the activities you’ve planned.
Print out a copy of the floor plan and write down some notes or circle the locations of your planned activities so you can easily find where they are. If the conference has an app, be sure to download and use it!
You can also be of help to other people who are looking for the same things as you and make a connection!
4. Make sure your social media profiles are professional and up-to-date
Everyone turns to social media to look up people they may want to connect with, so it’s extremely important to make your first (digital!) impression count! Here’s a few things you should update:
- Use a current profile picture so people can recognize you at the event
- Set your profile up to receive new connections before, during and after
- Update any certifications or awards you’ve received
- Include a header image or post in your bio that you will be attending the conference and how to meet up with you there
5. Connect with people before the show
Social media is a great tool to use for pre-conference networking, especially LinkedIn. You can see what the person looks like, things they’re interested in based off of interactions, their career path, and much more.
This also helps take the edge off introductions, since you get to do a little research beforehand.
You can also reach out the other attendees before the show, find commonalities, and plan to meet up so you don’t feel alone in the sea of people.
6. Take notes during the event
You’re going to be taking in a lot of information, especially if the conference is a couple days long. You’ll want to jot down notes to refer back to throughout the show and after it’s ended.
This will be especially helpful after a workshop or a guest speaker, so when you meet with vendors, you have an outline of questions to ask and topics to discuss.
If you forgot a notebook or pen, stop by a vendors booth, they usually have that as free swag!
7. Create social media content
Industry events are a great place to gather and create content. Take pictures with other attendees you meet there, your favorite workshops or guest speakers and post to your social media channels to create fun and interactive content. Be sure to use the conference hashtags and tag those featured in the pictures so your posts will be seen and interacted with by other attendees!
Another great way to develop content for future use is taking information from your notes and create blogs or other types of content from what you learned and add it to your content que. Easy content generation!
8. Follow up system
You put so much effort into fostering relationships with your connections before and during the conference, but networking doesn’t stop there! It’s super important to follow up with the people you meet so you can keep them as contacts for the future.
When you get home, there are three things you should do immediately:
- Email each person you met and include one personal detail – this helps build an authentic relationship
- Connect with each person you met on LinkedIn
- Schedule demo’s or informational calls with vendors you believe could be an asset to your association’s growth
9. Reflect on what you learned
Now that the conference is over, you’re done, right? Nope!
Don’t let all that valuable information you just learned go to waste! Take the time to reflect back on your experience:
- Did you meet your goals?
- What was your biggest take away?
- Did you find a solution to your problem?
Write these kinds of questions and answers down, review your notes and share them with your team to start implementing a new strategy.
You should also reflect on the conference in general:
- Did it provide the benefits you were looking for?
- Did it run smoothly? How was the atmosphere?
- Was the event staff helpful and considerate?
Rate your experience from 1-10 and determine if the event was beneficial.
10. Give your honest feedback
At the end of every conference, the host will usually send out a survey or link to give feedback on how you felt about the event. It may seem time consuming and unimportant, but giving your honest feedback is crucial information event hosts and planners need in order to improve and serve attendees better.
Let them know about the things you loved and the things you think could have been better executed. Give insight on how vendors interacted with you – were they friendly and helpful, or cold and pushy? This type of feedback will allow the conference staff to evaluate their successes, where they fell short, and what they can do to improve for next year.
Developing a plan for attending events is crucial for your success as an attendee. It may seem overwhelming at first, but as you attend more events and practice the process, it’ll become second nature.
Take advantage of the opportunities industry events provide to advance your education and learn new skills. Once you have an event process in place, you’ll be an expert in no time!