Conferences are a reality of business life. Whether this is your first conference or your 10th, it's easy to be overwhelmed by the exciting blend of travel, free meals, sessions, contacts, conversations, and business cards. Truth be told, conferences are a great way to learn from experts in your field and an essential networking opportunity (yes, even for introverts!). As we prepare for the upcoming MGMA Conference, we want to share some tips and tricks for new and experienced conference attendees. From the pre- conference planning to the post- conference follow up, we're here to provide you with 10 tips and tricks to get the most out of your next conference.
Before the Conference
1) Set goals- This may seem obvious but should be noted as the most important step. Write down 1-2 goals that you hope to accomplish during the conference. As the old saying goes, goals should be specific and measurable. Maybe you have a professional goal of becoming certified in a new platform, or a personal goal of meeting 5 new contacts in your industry. Before you leave the office, confirm these goals and get advice about additional goals from your coworkers and supervisor. Additionally, plan to present a knowledge sharing or training session to your team that directly involves these goals. This sense of accountability may increase your likelihood of accomplishing your goals and help you get the most out of the conference.
2) Review the list of attendees and "pre-introduce" yourself- Several weeks before the conference, start reviewing conference event pages like Facebook or LinkedIn to get an idea of who else will be attending. You can use these pages to create a "Networking Wishlist" with people you're interested in meeting at the conference. Next, find a way to pre-introduce yourself before the conference. Check LinkedIn or Facebook to see if you have any mutual friends or contacts who can introduce you. If not, send an email or reach out directly through another social media platform. State that you are looking forward to the conference and list a specific reason for the introduction. If the person is presenting, you may mention that you look forward to attending their upcoming session. If the person is in a similar industry, mention a session that looks interesting and ask which sessions they plan to attend. Even if you don't set up a specific time to meet, they'll be familiar with you when you introduce yourself in person. Lastly, most conferences publish an event hashtag prior to the start of the conference. You can tweet and use this hashtag to search for users to engage with before the event.
3) Plan your own networking event / opportunity- Networking is a main benefit of all conferences, and planning ahead allows you to network on your own terms. If you prefer one-on-one settings, you may invite someone to get coffee between sessions. Take advantage of any pre-existing relationships and plan a happy hour with a mix of people you already know and a few new people. You can also sign up to be a presenter, facilitator, or volunteer. Surprisingly, all three options allow you to gain visibility, and form solid connections over a common task or interest with smaller groups of people. Lastly, if you are interested in an organization, check to see if they have meet and greet sessions.
4) Review the agenda and plan your schedule- Review the agenda several times before the conference to get a clear idea of the sessions and presenters. Make sure that each session meets at least one of your goals. Your overall schedule should include a range of different sessions that meet all your goals. Also take into consideration any social or networking events, and adequate time to decompress.
During the Conference
1) Practice active listening- It's exciting and encouraging to leave a conference with a full notebook and a stack of new business cards. However, this information will only be valuable if you remember it after the conference. Regardless of your note taking choice (notebook, laptop, tablet, etc.), utilize active listening to store the information in a way that allows you to remember and easily access it after the conference. Active listening can be something as simple as writing down three main points from each session and any additional action steps. Avoid taking duplicate notes of anything that can be seen on the slides, and instead, focus on what speakers say. When a new contact gives you their business card, write additional information such as the session or event where you met them on the back of the card. This will make it easier to retrieve and remember the information after the conference is over.
2) Assess each session and change your schedule if necessary- Most conference sessions are flexible in nature, and it's not uncommon to move between different sessions within the same timeframe. If the current session isn’t what you expected, then don't be afraid to leave early and try another session. Additionally, if you need a small break between sessions, the lobby is a great place to decompress and have casual conversations with others attending the conference. Many presenters hang out in the lobby between sessions, which is a great time to network and introduce yourself. Additionally, don’t be afraid to skip sessions if other networking opportunities come up. There’s no need to end an interesting conversation because you need to make the next conference session.
3) Utilize Social Media- If you haven’t already, follow the event hashtag and use it consistently when posting about the conference. Post slides, food, and any funny pictures. Tweet at people before you meet them or before their session starts. Engage with speakers during their sessions by mentioning them in live tweets.
After the Conference
1) Share what you've learned with relevant team members- Show your company that the conference was worthwhile by sharing helpful information. Follow through with original plans for knowledge sharing or training sessions. However, remember that you can still share what you’ve learned without giving a formal presentation. Emails or key takeaways can also provide useful information. Consider connecting coworkers with any new contacts that you met at the conference. Try to send at least 1 relevant piece of information within the first 2 days of being back at the office.
2) Follow up with contacts made at the conference- Reach out to new contacts within 2-3 weeks. Send a follow up email with an article or something of mutual interest that was discussed during the conference. At the very least, remind them of how you met, and what you found interesting about their presentation or the conference.
We hope that this article was useful to you, and we wish you luck on your next conference. If you're attending the MGMA conference, we'd love to connect with you. Sign up for for scheduled time with one of our specialists using the button below, or swing by booth #2318 near the entrance of the exhibit hall!