Getting the Most Out of Professional Conferences

By: 

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

A Room Full of Strangers

By: Erin Tracey, ADNET Technologies

​If you are like me, networking and putting yourself in a room full of people you do not know makes you want to crawl out of your skin. There is nothing more intimidating for so many of us than walking into a room full of strangers and having to spark up a conversation. So the question becomes, how do you break the ice and get yourself out there to begin to grow your professional network? How do you stop making excuses for why you cannot attend events? There are only so many “prior commitments” and “not feeling up to its,” until you realize there could be some serious untapped opportunity and life experience waiting beyond those excuses.

For me, I thought I would start at a place that was somewhat familiar to me, my hometown Chamber of Commerce. I took the approach of meeting with the Executive and Associate Director prior to attending any events. I thought, “let me at least meet them, that way at the first few events I attend I will see familiar faces and they will recognize me, knowing I am new.” When I had my first meeting with them, I asked if there was anyone they thought I should connect with. They connected me with two gentleman, one who ran the Technology Committee, and the other who worked closely with members on how to effectively network and who also ran the Ambassador Committee. I quickly set up meetings with both of them. I now knew 4 people, all of whom are very involved in the chamber and knew a lot of other people. I met individually with the two gentlemen before attending any chamber events. They both were wonderful and totally understanding of my apprehension, gave me some good tips and suggested I attend a few signature events where they would also be attending and could introduce me to a few more folks.

Before I knew it, I was running the Technology Committee, serving as member of the Ambassador Committee, sitting on the Board of Directors, and attending many of the chambers events. Over time, I learned which events made sense for me to attend, as networking is far less about quantity and much more about quantity. Depending on your company and what businesses you are targeting, you may find that some events are not bringing you in front of the right audience. This should not take you long to identify, and you can always ask the organizations director or board for guidance as they know their members and events best.

When I attend events I will usually circle around saying hello to the familiar faces, then picking 3 new faces to introduce myself to. Thinking that you need to meet and talk to everyone is daunting and the task itself is completely overwhelming. With the goal of meeting 3 new people at each event, your network will grow in no time. The goal of networking should not be to make a sale. It should be to spread the word about your business with a quick 30-second overview, and to build relationships and trust. People buy from those they trust, and they will refer their friends and colleagues to those whom they feel comfortable with. The more people you know, the more connections you have, as you are not only connected with the people you know directly, but with also their personal and professional networks. It is important to connect on LinkedIn so you can follow them and stay connected.

Being involved in committees within your organization allows you to get involved as well as to establish closer relationships with those who are also on the committee or board. It gives you one-on-one time with members that you may not see at events depending on their schedules. Personally, attending after hours and before work events can be challenging but I have not let that stop me from growing my network. I have found events that fit into my work and personal life, that are impactful and enjoyable for me. Networking is a marathon, not a sprint. Remember that the majority of people do not actually enjoy networking, and that most will be more than happy to talk to you.

Happy networking!​