Ahh, conference trips! A combination of adventure, discovery and, for some, terror.
Regardless of your reaction, proper preparations can help maximize the benefit you receive. (We’ll talk about the terror part in a future post!)
Attending conferences, seminars or workshops may be old hat for some people who make them a regular part of their work or life experience. Many people, however, have attended them rarely or infrequently perhaps including you.
Even for those who may need to earn continuing education credits to maintain a professional license or credential may be attending but receiving less than desirable results.
Every conference you attend should give you value and benefit in your professional career or personal life depending on your goal. You invest a great deal of resources including your time and money to participate and want to improve your skills and knowledge through your attendance. A few mindful preparations can improve your experience no matter what type of conference you choose to attend.
- Review your career or personal goals. Don’t have a goal? Your first step would be to create goals or a plan for your journey. You will be more successful on your path to success if you know where you are headed. Picking the most appropriate conference to meet your needs is much easier when you know what areas in your development that you wish to improve. Do you need more help with: writing reports or presentations, working with a particular computer program, counseling someone to make a change, starting your own business, setting up your own website, starting a nonprofit organization or renovating your parent’s home for aging in place? Finding a conference to fulfill your goals is now much clearer. Picking the right conference will allow you to achieve maximum benefit.
- Pick a conference to meet your interest and goals. You can search your professional organization, ask your peers what they found successful, use social media to get advice from like-minded people, or search the web for new opportunities. Perhaps it will be local or involve travel. Your employer may help with the cost or you might have to invest in yourself so be mindful of the cost involved so that you can make the most of your experience.
- Once you have selected your conference, it is time to make some travel plans. If you plan to go to a new destination where you might wish to sightsee, you will want to plan accordingly to set aside time outside your conference, before or after, to accomplish a little vacation. Don’t count on ditching sessions or partaking in the night life so that you are not making the most of your learning. Now that you have plane reservations, how will you get ground transportation? Investigate your options and make a plan for car rentals, taxicabs, shuttles or other means of locomotion after you arrive. Some cities have transportation options that are cheaper when you buy a pass than getting a taxi every time you want to go somewhere. Investigate and even purchase these ahead of time.
- Now that your travel plans are made and you have arranged your life to carry on while you are gone it is time to review the outline and agenda. Huh say what? Yes, review the agenda. If there are multiple sessions, map out your course now before you go. Have an idea in your mind of which sessions will be most valuable and plan to attend those. Don’t wait until you are standing in the hallway trying to decide where to go, you will miss out! Naturally your choices are flexible and can be changed if you learn other things after you arrive such as a particular speaker might give better information than you thought or the schedule was changed by the organizer or you met a new person with whom you would like to attend a class. Having an initial plan will make it easier for you to focus on learning and networking. If possible, make a calendar to schedule travel time, when you need to go to registration, when the expo is open, when you go for lunch, and when the parties or other events are taking place. I usually use this calendar to plan what clothes I need to take with me. Don’t forget that meeting rooms are often cold so you will need to dress accordingly.
- Be sure to pack essentials such as business cards, your company’s attire to properly market yourself, and note-taking supplies whether it is an electronic tablet or old style pen and paper. If you don’t have these items, now is the time to get them.
- If you are going somewhere with an expo and you expect to pick up samples, you want to plan on how you are going to get these items home. You can ship a box home or bring an extra suitcase to check on the plane. Generally a carry-on suitcase that is stuffed with your clothes won’t accommodate many freebies from vendors.
Conferences and other workshops or seminars can be motivational, inspirational and educational. The more you invest in making it a great experience, the maximum benefits you will get returned. Have fun and make new friends to grow and strengthen your network for future success.