Attending a conference is an excellent way to get new ideas and build stronger networks. But most people return from an event to face accumulated email and voice mail, urgent needs from coworkers, and no time to process or reflect on the learning. So the bag full of gimmicks and the folder full of notes end up on the desk or the floor accumulating dust until conference season rolls around again next year.
You can maximize your conference attendance and minimize your office clutter with a little pre-planning.
Before you go:
Block time. As you’re scheduling time to GO to the conference, also block time on your calendar to RECOVER. You’re going to need this time when you get back, and scheduling it in advance is the only way to keep it open for yourself. Just block out a few hours in the day or two following your return.
Have a plan. When you sign up for a conference, identify specific goals. What do you hope to learn from the conference? What current challenges do you face? Think about who you can learn from at the conference, and consider reaching out beforehand to set up an appointment to meet with them at the event. Even if you don’t have a particular person or company in mind to help you find the answers you’re looking for, having clarified your goals, you’ll be more likely to find answers.
While you’re there:
Stay focused, and stay open. Keep your goals in the front of your mind throughout the conference. Let the quest for those answers guide what sessions you choose. And stay open to hearing the answer from an unexpected place. As you chat with folks, tell as many people as possible what you’re looking for – one colleague will often lead you to another who has the answer.
Return the favor. As part of every conversation (even just a quick “hello” to an old friend) try to ask how you can help them grow. Even if they haven’t come to the event with specific goals, by asking the question you help them get the most from their experience, and may build a relationship that benefits you both.
When you get home:
Use your pre-scheduled time to reflect on the experience, extract the nuggets of information that you want to put to use, and turn your notes into actions.
Sit down and sort through all the materials you picked up at the conference. Throw away anything you’re not going to immediately act upon. Put away any items you’re going to keep. And most importantly: Identify specific actions to take.
Schedule time to act. Don’t just put the action on a list! Actually use the time you pre-scheduled to follow up as you’ve intended. If you don’t finish in the block of time you’ve scheduled, block another session.
Throw out the rest. Any materials that you collected that you aren’t going to act on are candidates for discard. Don’t feel guilty. Everyone picked up more than they meant to. If you aren’t going to use it, pass it on to someone who can, or recycle it. It will only get in your way and make you feel lousy as you trip on it for the next year. Toss it!
Promote your attendance. At or following the event, tell the world you attended. Blog, tweet, issue a post-conference media release, or put a notice in your newsletter. In addition to announcing your attendance, you can help support those in your network by sharing statistics, tips, or other information you picked up at the event or conference.
The only thing better than getting a ton of great ideas at a conference is knowing that you actually have scheduled time to put them to use.
Write to me and tell me how you are going to get the most out of your next conference!