Getting the Most Out of Professional Conferences

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Let me start by saying I might be biased; as a Marketing and Events Specialist, I place a VERY high value on continued learning outside of the office through summits and conferences. As it turns out, I’m not the only one – with CPEs (Continuing Professional Education credits) needed for many certifications and positions along with rising requirements for professional development hours, many organizations are becoming more and more supportive of their employees attending educational and networking events.

Being out of the office and out of commission for several hours, or even a full day, can be a hard sell for those of us with heavy workloads. How can I justify taking time off work when I know how much I need to get done? Easily, it turns out. When you attend a conference, you have the opportunity to come back to work refreshed, recharged and full of new ideas. But there are some specific things that can make attending these events more productive and beneficial for you and your company.

Making the conference work for you:

  1. Thoroughly vet the event. Check out the website, and really read through the description of what you can expect to determine if the event is going to be a good fit for you. There’s nothing worse than giving away your time to something that ultimately isn’t giving anything back to you.
  2. Register early! If you know you’re attending the event, register as soon as you confirm that you will be able to go. Whether that’s with your company or just with your own calendar, you should block out time for the event as soon as possible so that your colleagues know you’ll be out of the office during that time and can plan accordingly. This also gives you more time to get any special requests or accommodations set in stone, which can make for a much more enjoyable event. Some events even offer incentives for early registration, such as reduced fees or entry into special raffles and mini events.
  3. Notify your workplace. Don’t assume that people are going to check your shared calendar! You always want to notify those closest to you, as well as anyone you may need to get approval from to attend and spend time out of the office. Unless you’re attending something on vacation or your own time, chances are you’re going to want your organization to be aware that you’re participating in something on their behalf.
  4. Study the agenda or event guide (if available). Once the agenda or schedule is released, take some time to read through it and see what interests you. Many business conferences will run concurrent sessions, and you will want to know beforehand what you’d like to attend as well as what is offered. If the agenda differs wildly from the initial description of the event and there is no longer anything that seems relevant to you, it’s better to know that before you show up for eight hours of torture! Worst case scenario, if you realize there’s nothing on the schedule that interests you or aligns with your professional life, cancel going to the event and wait for the next one.
  5. Bring a friend! Everything is more enjoyable when you have someone like-minded to share the experience with. If applicable, bring a friend or colleague to the event with you. This is especially helpful when you have multiple sessions running simultaneously that would benefit your business – because you have the opportunity to divide and conquer by splitting up your attendance and meeting up during breaks to share notes and takeaways. At ADNET’s last WorkSmart Hartford summit, I heard from several clients who had taken this approach and were able to collectively attend all of the sessions that were applicable to their business.
  6. Dress professionally. Whether you work in a formal office or somewhere more casual, a good rule of attending conferences with no set dress code is to wear something you would wear to work. If you have an office that dresses down, wear what you normally would. You never know who you will meet, and you want to represent your professional image consistently as though they were meeting you in your own office.
  7. Participate! There is a TON of information available at educational and professional events, and as an attendee you’re presumably there to absorb it. Talk to exhibitors and speakers when the opportunity presents itself. If there are demonstrations going on, check them out! You never know what kind of information you will uncover or what ideas you’ll get from these interactions.
  8. Network, network, network. When the business community comes together for an event, it’s a beautiful thing. You have literal rooms full of people with common interests, all tied together by the theme of the conference. That means you have automatic common ground with people and networking will be much easier than going in blind. If you saw someone in a session, mention it! If there’s a social hour, stick around! Networking at these events can open doors that you otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to, in a relaxed and often informal setting that makes it easy to converse and exchange thoughts.

Events are a great way to participate in the business community and your industry. You’ll be exposed to new ideas, some of which can really change the way you do business, others that can make you more productive or help you understand trends in your field. So don’t think of attending an event as “taking a day off,” think of it as taking a day to work on your professional development and bring something new back to the table when you do inevitably return to the office.

*Photo of WorkSmart Hartford 2017 by J. Fiereck Photography

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