A good business conference can do a lot for a professional. It has the ability to not only advance your career but also teach you new things and meet people with mutual interests. It's not every day you get the chance to step away from the office and listen to expert speakers or form new connections that can benefit you in your business endeavors. But how do you know you're getting the most out of your experience?
If you're attending a conference soon, here are seven ways to make the most of it.
1. Set your goals and intentions.
Think about what excites you about this particular conference. Why are you attending? Who do you wish to meet? Consider what you'd like to gain from the experience. Make a list of goals you'd like to achieve throughout the event. Maybe you'd like to have a conversation with one of the keynote speakers or get the contact information of at least 10 individuals. Whatever your goals are, be fully aware of them at all times and try to check off every one.
2. Plan your time.
You don't go on vacation without planning your time there; you want to utilize every second as effectively as possible. Why wouldn't you do the same with a conference?
You'll likely have access to the conference itinerary ahead of time. Take advantage of it! Choose what sessions will benefit you most, what time you should arrive and who you'd like to see. There should be no confusion about what you're going to do once you get there.
3. Brainstorm questions.
Come up with a list of questions you'd like to discuss with other professionals in your niche. They could even be questions you've asked previously but would like different perspectives on.
Talk to your team about what they'd like to know as well. What questions do they have? Could they be added to your own list? Try to think about things that will advance you in your position and put you a step ahead.
4. Practice your elevator pitch.
No one likes small talk, but you have to do it sometimes. An elevator pitch is a professional form of small talk in which you introduce yourself, explain what you do, and give a little bit of your background.
If you want to keep things interesting, you'll have to practice. Focus on your strongest qualities and what skills you provide. Most importantly, keep it short and sweet.
5. Hunt for information like a bloodhound.
Speak with as many people as you can. Take detailed notes on topics that interest you, new ideas or concepts, and things you'd like to further discuss with your team. Share those notes with others and offer to swap what you have.
Attend as many sessions as you can. Even if a topic does not seem directly related to what you do, you can still learn something when it's from a different angle or point of view.
Are there opportunities to speak one-on-one with keynote speakers? If you can, pick their brains. Ask them the questions you brainstormed, or discuss a point they made during their presentation in more detail. Make your experience one that revolves around learning, soaking up knowledge like an old sponge.
6. Network, network, network.
Networking is what will benefit you more than any other aspect of a conference. Don't be afraid to introduce yourself to new people; they're doing the same thing. It's OK to be shy or introverted in nature, but don't let that hold you back from advancing in your career.
Conferences are beneficial because they force you to interact with people and learn new things. According to a survey by Harvard Business Review, 95 percent of business people believe meeting face-to-face is important for nurturing and maintaining long-term professional relationships.
Make the most of the experience by keeping your business cards handy in your pocket. By the end of the conference, if you've worked your crafty elevator pitch on enough people, you should have a nice stack ready for further connections. You can also swap email addresses, LinkedIn profiles and Twitter handles for easier follow-up.
7. Follow up.
Don't let the connections you made and all that elevator-pitching go to waste. Follow up with your contacts, but gently. You don't want to come off as overbearing or desperate for a business connection.
Whether you swapped emails, social media or business cards, use what you have to start up a professional yet friendly conversation. Make it your goal to form a connection that will last. Listen to what they have to say, and don't be aggressive in how you approach them.
From here, you should have a list of answers for the questions you formed, a decent collection of emails and social media from new people you met, and a handy set of notes that will aid you in your business endeavors. With the right amount of planning and goal-setting, you're sure to get the most out of your conferences.