How to Get the Most Out of Your Conference Experience (Planning for Before, During, and After)
Are you getting ready to attend a conference?
While attending a conference gives you a spectacular opportunity to create and strengthen connections with others in your industry, as well as learn something new along the way, it does require some preparation.
If you plan to just show up and “wing it,” you probably won’t find as much value in your conference experience as you could have otherwise. Instead, make a plan for how you can get the most out of your time there. You’ll get back to work motivated to maintain the relationships you made and put into practice the things you learned.
Let’s start by examining how you might want to dress for your conference.
What to Wear to a Conference
At any conference, you want to give a good first impression, and that begins with what you are wearing.
Crafting the perfect conference-chic outfit isn’t hard—it just takes some forethought. If you present yourself in a wrinkled shirt or stained tie, you could come off as lazy or apathetic. On the other hand, the right clothing can give you confidence, control, and charisma, making it easy to put your best foot forward.
- Tailored Tops and Bottoms: Different conferences have different dress codes, but fit and neatness work across the board. If you have a hard time finding clothes that fit well, it only takes $5-$15 to have a piece tailored and you will never regret it. Also, dry clean and press your clothes, and keep a lint roller handy.
- Shoes: It’s likely you’ll be on your feet quite a bit during the conference, so comfort is a must. At the same time, you want to dress the part of a professional. Clean dress shoes are always a safe bet.
- Accessories: Don’t be afraid to show some personality with your accessories. A pair of unique glasses, beautiful earrings, or colorful socks can go a long way and act as an icebreaker.
- Hair/Facial Hair: Again, a specific style is less important than tidiness. Keep your personality, but make sure your hair is clean and trimmed up (this goes for facial hair as well).
Pre-Conference Prep Tips
Whether you want to learn about new technology, hear from an expert in your industry, or practice your speaking and exhibiting skills, preparing for a conference with a specific goal in mind will get you far.
Here are a few tips for before you attend:
- Review the agenda and research who is presenting at the conference. Are there any specific speakers you don’t want to miss? Are there any classes you can skip in order to have time to make more personal one-on-one connections instead?
- Reach out to other professionals who will be attending the conference. Set up a specific meet time so you can get better acquainted with them.
- Explore the conference’s social media channels. This will keep you in the loop on any schedule changes as well as new learning or networking opportunities.
- Make yourself a custom itinerary with dates, times, and room or booth numbers for those things you want to do. You may want to coordinate with coworkers so you can most efficiently “divide and conquer” the sessions.
- Update your business cards and bring plenty of them. Also be sure to refresh your online profiles so you can invite others to connect with you, including key industry influencers.
- Familiarize yourself with the venue and surrounding area. You may have the opportunity to do some evening socializing, and you’ll score a few brownie points if you can recommend a great restaurant.
- Pack your device’s charging cables and only head out the door with a full battery. You’ll be snapping a lot of pictures, texting back and forth, and taking detailed notes so you want your electronics at full capacity.
Once you’re at the conference, it’s time to shine by learning as much as you can and making connections with as many people as possible.
Here are a few tips to try once you get to the conference:
- Register early and RSVP, especially to the conference’s special events. You don’t want to waste time waiting in the registration line when others are already gathered inside and starting their rounds.
- Post on social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.) with the conference’s dedicated hashtags. Join the online conversation and use it as an opportunity to connect with people you may not have a chance to meet otherwise.
- Don’t be afraid to go it alone. You may feel awkward if you’re at the conference without coworkers, but try to focus on the benefits instead. Think of it as an opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and zero in on accomplishing the conference goals you made for yourself.
- Make a point of meeting with clients. Even if you’ve exchanged emails or phone calls in the past, face-to-face interaction can make all the difference in your relationship. Take the time to address any issues or concerns, listen for upsell opportunities, and enjoy getting to know them personally.
- Organize all the information you gather. You may find yourself overwhelmed with the huge stack of handouts, notes, names, and numbers you compile over just a few days. We recommend storing everything in one place until you’re able to sort and organize back at the office.
So, you prepared well and made it through your conference with flying colors. Fantastic! Now you can just go back to work as usual, right? Think again.
If you want to get the most value out of the time and money it took to attend that conference, you need to follow up afterward.
Here are a couple of solid ways to extend the value of your conference:
- Get in touch with any key influencers or new client prospects you met—keep the conversation going. It’s easier to do this if you make a couple of notes about them on the back of their business card. That way, you’ll have their contact info and a few details to bring up in a later conversation.
- Take what you learned and teach it to the rest of your team. Sharing the knowledge you gained at the conference will help everyone benefit, even if they didn’t attend themselves. Plus, reviewing and teaching the information will help you internalize it further.
With a little bit of preparation and follow-up, you can take your conference experience from “meh” to marvelous. Get started with these tips, and let us know in the comments of any other strategies you use.
Want more? Check out our Top HR Conferences post to see a list of the some of the most popular conferences in the industry.