Winning Tips for Getting the Best Value Out of Your Conference Participation

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No matter how technology advances, there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction between human beings. This is the reason why even the largest tech companies organize annual events and connect their users and fans during live conferences.

Conferences are a great way to network with like-minded professionals, learn about trends and best practices that you can put in place in your organization for business improvement.

After over 15 years of organizing conferences, I am astonished that people don’t take the full advantage of a conference experience and realize at least a potential tenfold return on their conference investment.

After all, conferences are not a cheap way to learn. They require a significant time investment from your end to attend, in addition to monetary investment by your company for a conference ticket, hotel and travel. Adding these all together, the cost easily slips into $5-6,000 per person. Further adding to the cost is of your time out of the office, so the projected amount could be even double.

So, you better bring some solid value back to your business from every conference you attend!

Attending a conference might be perceived as outrageously expensive, especially in comparison to a free webinar or a book on the subject. However, I still believe it’s the best way to learn and the quickest way to realize RoI.

After all, it’s all about RoI, isn’t it?

I strongly believe there are only value questions when it comes to investing time and money.

I further strongly believe, that your business thinks the same way too. Many readers of this blog work for well-known brands who are not the cheapest in their product/services category – and they don’t even want to be. They deliver VALUE and quality to their customers who are willing to pay for that value.

However, attending a conference is a tricky question, because no matter how much effort an organizer puts in delivering quality content, to maximize value it is just as much your responsibility too.

So here are my five tips to ensure your next conference experience will be a valuable one.

1. Preparation

It is very often overlooked, that even as a participant you need to prepare to gain maximum value. It’s not enough to look at the agenda and the speakers. To get the best out of your next event you need to spend some quiet time and think about each session and speech within the entire event in terms of value for you. What sessions are the most appealing? How does it apply in my current situation? What questions should I ask from the speakers? Is there any way to push my questions to the organizer (yes!) before the conference so the speaker can address issues that are important to me? Look up each of the speakers on LinkedIn – check out their experiences and think about how they could possibly help you. Ask for attendees’ list from the organizer, find interesting people to meet up with and get the organizers to help you in meeting those people. Have your own personalized agenda ready before the event.

2. Participation

To get the best out of your conference you need to be pro-active onsite. Wait a minute, isn’t this also what you want from your people back in your workplace? Of course, it’s much easier to create highly engaging environments where people pro-actively share their views with you. It’s the same at a conference too – you may choose to be a player or a spectator. A player plays the game and actively participates, they get the best experience. A spectator simply watches a game that others play.

So how can you participate and be a pro-active player?

When you are in the room, be in the room.

A simple mantra. Don’t answer emails or text messages, don’t be late for the presentation or leave early. Your organization probably can function well without you answering a mail for 30-45 min – the average length of a speech.

Focus on the presenter, take notes, prepare questions as the presentation progresses, and constantly think about how it can be applicable to you, how that speech could help you to do your job better.

When it comes to Q&A, raise your hand and ask the questions. In case you don’t get the answer you need, please don’t dominate the floor, rather take the conversation with the speaker to the networking break.

3. Networking

There are three real value areas at a conference:

  • Speakers
  • The content they share
  • and the quality of the attendees

Of course I am simplifying, however, really these are the core. As the saying goes it’s not what you know, but who you know that matters. Conferences are great opportunities to meet people who can help you to do your job better or introduce you for someone. So next time you attend a conference, don’t just stand in a corner and wait for people to come to you. Rather, be pro-active and meet people who YOU want to meet instead. Here are some tips on networking:

  • Come with a plan on who you want to meet
  • Email the speakers who have the most relevant content for you and schedule a meeting during the conference
  • Prepare your introduction – 10 seconds to introduce yourself to anyone. Not what your job title is – that does not say much, rather focus on what you do and how you create value for your company
  • Ask people meaningful questions and listen to what they have got to say
  • Learn how to excuse yourself gracefully – don’t get stuck with the same people, the more people you meet the more value you will get out of the conference

4. Debrief and Return on Investment Calculation

Once the conference is over, the REAL work to realize value is beginning. The choice is yours. You may use the materials for “shelf-development” – by stashing them away for good on your virtual or real office shelf. Or you may use them for self-development – by reflecting on what you’ve just learnt and working out a concrete action plan with the new knowledge you’ve gained.

Follow up with your contacts.

Send a quick mail to people you’ve met, send them some interesting ideas. Connect them on LinkedIn, follow them on Twitter, keep the conversation going.

Reflect on what you’ve learnt.

There’s so much knowledge shared, that the best way to start is to revisit your notes and create a simple list on how those ideas can impact on your project. Then narrow the list down as per your priority, and focus on only those that may have the biggest impact on your work in a manageable way. If you attended the event with your colleagues, it is the best to do a ‘reflection day’ whereby all of you bring the acquired ideas to the table. You will be surprised how two people attending the exact same session pick up very different ideas.

5. Prior to the event, think about RoI value and prepare your conference justification letter!

RoI calculations, however, do not start after the event – they start prior signing up to the conference. You need to think before even deciding to attend on how and where you see the conference impacting your work.

  1. Prepare your justification letter and submit a business case for your management.
  2. Get focused – you know how and where you wish to have the desired impact – so start your preparation accordingly.

A two day, the high-level event is a jam-packed experience, a concentrated knowledge sharing and learning opportunity. Sessions follow each other rapidly, there are concurrent tracks and multiple speakers, hence it’s not easy to be sure you’ll truly get what you really want. Therefore, I hope you find the above tips useful and will help you to realize a great deal of value from your next conference!

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