Success in your career depends
upon how you manage your professional development. And a prime source of this
development comes from your professional association. As a member, you can attend
conferences where you advance your skills and meet people who can help you.
Some people, however, treat
attendance at conferences as a paid vacation. They party, they skip sessions,
and they return home with nothing more than a stack of receipts. That costs
them (or their business) money and contributes nothing to professional growth.
Heres how to get
the most out of your next conference.
Start With a Plan First,
make a list of your goals for attending the conference. For example, this could
include the information that you want to gain, the relationships that you want
to deepen, the people you want to meet, and the things that you want to buy.
Also, make a list of questions that you want to have answered while youre
at the conference. This list will help you focus on your personal agenda during
the conference and will maximize your chances of returning with something that
benefits your career.
Then, scan through the program
to select those sessions that help you the most. These could be on topics that
teach you skills leading to a promotion, help open new opportunities at work,
or answer important questions about your career. If many valuable sessions are
scheduled at the same time, then select your first and second choices. You may
find that one of the sessions has been canceled or filled (sold out).
I always highlight my top
priority sessions so that I can sign up or arrive early. These sessions have
such great value that they often justify attending the conference, and I want
to make sure that Im there when they start.
If you are an employee who
must obtain approval to attend a conference, you can use this plan to justify
your request. Supplement your plan with explanations of how the information,
relationships, and participation at the conference will enhance your value to
your company. Wise leaders always support someone who relates a request to the
benefits that come from it.
Work the Plan While at the
conference keep your list of goals and questions in mind. Begin each day by
checking your list and identifying those goals that you can achieve during that
day. For example, some sessions may provide information that answers some of
At the end of the day review
your list and check off those goals that you accomplished. If you discover new
opportunities, then add them to your list of goals. And if you find yourself
stuck on reaching a goal, seek out a senior member whom you can ask for advice
on how to achieve it.
Meet People One of the major
benefits that you gain from attending a conference will be the relationships
that you start by meeting new people. These relationships can become sources
of information, friendship, and job opportunities.
Thus, make it a point to
meet new people. Instead of spending all of your time with friends or colleagues,
go off on your own. Join other people for meals. Sit next to them during the
sessions. Start conversations while walking between sessions. And be sure to
ask for a business card. Then you can add that persons contact information
into your contact database.
I encourage you to introduce
yourself to the speakers. They were invited to speak at the conference because
of their expertise in your profession. Thus, they can become valuable resources
for information, assistance, and referrals. The best time to meet speakers is
right after they finish their presentation. Introduce yourself, offer a brief
compliment on the presentation, and ask for a business card. Of course, if you
meet them again at the conference, use this as an opportunity to talk further.
Apply What You Gained When
you return home, set aside an hour or so to review the notes that you took while
at the conference. You may want to schedule this on your calendar before you
leave for the conference.
Review your notes, identifying
the main ideas. Then convert each of these ideas into an action that you will
take to implement it. Ideally, this will produce a list of things to do. Once
you finish the list add a completion date and assign a priority. Recognize that
this step converts everything that you learned, collected, and gained during
the conference into tangible benefits for yourself and your company.
If you are an employee,
I recommend writing a report for your management. Document the key ideas that
you gained and describe how they can be applied to your work. If youre
an independent, you may still want to write such a report for yourself because
this formalizes what you gained from the conference.
Be Grateful When you return
home, write thank you notes to the people you met at the conference. This simple
courtesy will set you apart as an exceptional person. I especially recommend
writing notes to:
1) The leaders
in the association. They worked hard to organize the event. And they can help
you with your career.
2) Members of the
staff who helped you. These are wonderful people to know because they can
help you get the most out of your membership.
3) The speakers.
This could start relationships with experts and celebrities in your profession.
4) New friends.
This makes you memorable when you meet at the next conference.
When you attend a conference,
you immerse yourself in the society and the technology of your profession. And
when you apply what you gained, your career prospers.