Why do people most often attend conferences? Is it what they learn? Who they meet? The all-access pass to free lanyards, pens and USB sticks? Here's some tips to get you prepared for a great conference:
- Network smart. Even if you’re an introvert, force yourself to network, but make real connections. It isn’t about getting the most business cards to add to your mailing list, the best conference experiences (and long-term benefits) derive from meeting people you’d genuinely enjoy working with. Andrew Lane from Nitch says, "Never look a person in the badge. Always look them in the eyes and have a conversation with them." A great reminder that meeting people without caring probably won't bring you any business.
- Ask questions that solicit great answers from the speaker(s). Don't ask specific questions about your situation - those are offline discussions, you can try and corner the speaker later, but at least buy them a drink while you are looking for free advice. Also: The fifteen minutes of Q&A in every session is not the platform to solicit funding for your company. No one cares about you - if they did, you'd be the speaker :) Ask an intelligent question or sit down. Those are your only 2 options.
- Use the tools available to you. If my mother can figure out how to use Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook to improve her conference experience, you have no excuse. Research attendees beforehand, set up meetings and find out where the best places to eat are. The best conversations and questions bubble up through the conference hashtag, and this is the place for truly collaborative discussion. If you have something to contribute, don’t be shy.
- Share with your team. Plan to give a presentation of the conference with your team for at least an hour when you get back. Keeping this in the back of your mind will help you focus on learning throughout the event, writing down key learnings and getting your brain going on ideas and insights.
- Give feedback after the conference. Organizers like hearing what will make you more/less likely to pay cold hard cash to come to their next event. Don’t be shy, but hold off on being a jerk, just be honest!
Finally, I came across this on careerlife.net and it may be the best tip ever:
Everyone goes to a conference to learn and have fun, but no one enjoys being around people who are boorish, self-centered, or needy. Before you go to the conference review the ways in which you can make yourself irresistibly attractive so that others will be attracted to you and the information you need will be drawn to you effortlessly.
So yeah, you know...before you next conference, put some serious work into making yourself irresistibly attractive ;)