So. You took advice from my last blog post and decided which conference to attend. Congratulations. But now you want to be sure that you leverage your investment by making the most of your attendance. Here are three proven strategies for making sure you get your money’s worth.
Conferences generally have 3 types of content sessions:
- General Sessions: these are sessions that are intended for the full complement of attendees. The speakers are typically big names in the industry who speak on universal topics relevant to the conference theme or they are big celebrity names meant to draw your attendance to the conference. Here in Orlando where I’m attending the SHRM affiliated HR Florida conference, the opening general session featured Henry Winkler. (He was terrific, by the way.)
- Concurrent Sessions: these are the main content tracks that are scheduled throughout the conference. Each time slot will hold multiple options for your consideration. Designed for smaller subsets of the conference attendees, these tend to be led by practitioners, consultants or academics and are focused content of a practical nature.
- Sponsor Highlights: these are sessions that feature a sponsor or exhibitor’s product or service, are marketing-focused in nature, and come as part of their sponsorship/exhibitor fee.
In a typical two and a half day conference, it’s important to select the sessions you want to attend wisely – and in advance. But it’s also important not to over-schedule yourself (more on that later). I recommend attending all the General Sessions. The big names generally have value and the celebrity speakers are generally engaging, entertaining and motivating. Then attend concurrent sessions in about 75% of the time slots.
Save time for Networking
One of the particular values of attending a conference in person (as opposed to an online conference or a series of webinars) is the opportunity to meet other like minded people. Look at the list of presenters. Look at the list of sponsors/exhibitors. Find out who else will be attending. Then target 4-8 people that you’d really like to meet and talk with – and find them at the conference. Leaving time in your session schedule to set short appointments when you find people on your target list will allow you to be thoughtful in creating new relationships. Don’t pass up the opportunity to learn from industry pros – who, by the way, also want to network and meet people just like you!
You know how to network, right? You prepare for these opportunities in advance by identifying what you’d like to talk about with each target and prepare 2 or 3 questions to get the conversation rolling. You can ask everyone the same questions, or you can customize your approach to each person. Your confidence will be strong as you introduce yourself to these folks and you’ll be surprised how amenable perfect strangers are to meet and talk with you.
As you walk the conference halls and expo aisles, make sure your demeanor and body language is open. And smile. Intentionally. You’ll appear open, friendly, not intimidating or intimidated. Really, there’s nothing more attractive than a smiling face. And there’s nothing that builds your confidence to approach strangers than acting open and welcoming.
Attending a conference and getting your money’s worth isn’t hard. But it takes some forethought and planning. Both you and your organization want to realize the investment it took to get there. Make sure you get the full value of the experience.