How to get the most out of a conference starts with knowing what you want or need. It’s 2023 and for the first time in three years you’re considering attending a conference in person. There’ll be keynote speakers and breakout presenters, work groups with industry leaders, and opportunities to connect with old friends and new. The question is — is it worth the time and money? If it’s a legitimate event, it’s up to you to make it worth your time. I’ve talked with scores of conference attendees before, during, and after gatherings, and I’ve repeatedly heard the same two questions: “I’ve got so many ideas — where do I start?” and, “I wish I knew how to network.”

How to Get the Most Out of a Conference

Do You Have a Plan?

Attending any event without a plan will most certainly ensure wasting time and money. If you don’t have a plan, stay home. A plan doesn’t have to be complicated or take days to prepare. It begins with knowing what you hope to gain. Are you looking for specific ideas, inspiration, or how to improve your operation?

Form a Team 

An effective way of assessing and sharing notes from sessions is to form a discussion panel. It’s easy to do if you’re attending with co-workers or friends. It’s a little more difficult when you’re alone. If you’re going by yourself, reach out via social media for three or four others to join a discussion panel. The panel can meet for a few minutes at lunch or after sessions to discuss and share.

If there are breakouts, use panel members to cover as many sessions as possible. Share notes, ideas, and thoughts about each session. Assign each member to bring one takeaway from each session to the discussion. It’s important to limit the number of ideas shared, or the discussion may bog down.

Choose Three Actions

In the last panel discussion, each member can choose three actions to implement. Only three? Doesn’t sound like enough? It may not be. You might have a great capacity, but in the past you may have been a “slacktavist” like me with a pad full of notes you did little with. If that’s the case, try just three actions. Begin the first immediately, the second in thirty days, and the third in ninety (ninety gives time for one and two to get rolling).

The discussion group then shares each other’s three actions and becomes an accountability group. Next, schedule follow-ups by email, social media, or a coffee shop meet up. Finally, encourage continuing interaction among panel members.

Networking at Events

Who should you target? It ties back to what you want to achieve. I firmly believe you never know how any two people may help each other until you ask. Start by looking at the speaker lineup, choose a couple of speakers you’d like to meet, attend their session, and introduce yourself. I promise they won’t bite. Next, review the attendees and pick a few people you want to meet.

I’m Going to Make this Easy

Before you tell me you’re too shy, you don’t know what to say, or you don’t want to impose — try this: Instead of introducing yourself with an awkward elevator pitch, ask them a question.

• “Hi I’m Randy, and I enjoyed your presentation, especially the part about the butterflies. How did you come up with that?”

• “Hi, my name’s Randy Clark, I saw you were attending and wanted to meet you. May I ask why you attended this event, what you hope to get out of it, and how I can help?”

• “Hi, my name’s John Doe, and I read a post where this guy Randy somebody said I should introduce myself to others and ask how I could help them. So… what are you hoping to gain from this event and how can I help you?”

Don’t make it complicated. Keep it simple. Give your name and ask a question. If you can’t think of a question, simply ask how you can help.

Getting lost in a conference can happen to the best of us. My friend Kit Kieser is an organized and disciplined artist, writer, editor, and professor. She uses resources wisely, she said,

“Would it not make more sense to have a panel discussion where a problem is solved or a game plan is made to implement these ideas? Don’t get me wrong: I’m as guilty as any other “slacktivist” that likes to contemplate and deliberate over lofty ideas without ever taking consequential action.”

Yes Kit, it would be a good idea.

Are You a Good Networker?

I’d always considered myself an effective networker. I’m friendly, easy to talk to, and I’ve never met a stranger. However, none of that makes me a good networker – it makes me outgoing. If I wanted to be the most effective networker I could be I needed a plan. That’s how my networking workbook, Help Networking started.

My plan probably won’t be your plan. That’s why throughout the book there are worksheets, checklists, and simple CTA’s. Use these to create a networking plan that fits your needs.

If you enjoyed this you might also like, Attending an Event? Don’t Just Sit There

Photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash