How to Conference Well
20 years of attending conferences have taught me a lot about what not to do and how to get the most out of almost any conference experience. Here are some tips I’ve used over the years:
Pre-register as much as possible – Pre-registration keeps you out of lines and relieves mistakes. Register for everything you can online because on site registrations take forever and too many mistakes happen when the lines get long.
Minimize group think – While going with a group of people is fine, I try to break off the group during the conference so I can digest the material myself. Don’t use others as a filter for the information you are hearing at the moment. Connect at the end of the day with your group or after the conference.
At the registration table don’t pick up unnecessary trinkets – If you aren’t going to use the notebook or the coffee mug you don’t have to take them. It’s more stuff to carry. Determine what your minimum carry is and stick with it!
Schedule your day and have a backup plan for each session – I’ve been in too many sessions that had really interesting names only to find out they were terrible. Plan to have an alternate session if at all possible for each time slot.
Seat selection is critical – Get to the session early enough that you don’t have to sit in the middle of a row of chairs. The most ideal seat is one that is far enough back you can still see the speaker and the screen clearly, but one that you can easily exit from in case the session is not what you expected.
Write down what you hear – Don’t rely on the slides that you might have received or on notes someone else took. I’ve given enough presentations to know that really good information leaks out around the edges of the normal talk.
Network with people you don’t know – This is generally an opportunity to connect with people who have the same interest as you. Don’t eat lunch with your group, go sit by a stranger and strike up a conversation. You will end up learning more by talking with others outside your organization than group thinking the information with others you went with.
Plan the information to immediate action – Spending time at a conference can be refreshing while you break away from your everyday tasks and learn new and interesting things. While you are away make a plan for how you will use the information when you get back. When you get back it is too easy to fall back into the everyday cycle and not implement or forget about the information you are learning now. Take time while you are still away and make a plan.
When you get back share the information – In one of my previous positions I required that individuals who went to a conference had to come back and present at least some of the information that they heard. Nothing is better at validating learning and understanding than having to share it to a group of peers.