The financial services or accounting profession can be a lonely business, especially if you work in a small office. Firms and industries know it and tend to organize conferences in the first half of the year. Your firm might bring the sales force together. Your industry might have a conference where people from different firms and cities gather together in a big conference center. This can be an opportunity to party and socialize, but how do you get the most professional value?
- Make new friends. What does everyone have in common? They do the same job or are involved in the same industry. Unlike your office or city, these people are not in direct competition with you. They also face the same challenges. Like you, they have good and bad days. Find people you like and with whom you identify. Spend time together. Exchange contact information. Stay in touch after the conference.
- Find the round table. The best LinkedIn groups I have found function as discussion forums. Someone asks a question and others volunteer opinions and answers. It resembles a big round table in the lobby bar at a conference hotel. Find the IRL (In Real Life) version! When you see a group of fellow professionals at a table with folks coming and going, ask if you can join them. Listen and learn.
- Give to get. You are successful. You have developed systems that got you there. You learned really great approaches from experienced people in your office back home or training sessions you attended. Be ready to share these ideas. Yes, you want to listen and learn, but remember to give to get. Sharing your best practices will yield a good return.
- Attend the sessions granting CE credits. You have a requirement to earn a certain number of continuing ed credits to keep your license current. Conferences often feature sessions where attendance earns credits. Find out which ones qualify ahead of time. Sign up for them. Attend and take notes. Make sure you complete whatever paperwork is required to get those credits “credited” to you.
- Learn about coaches. Sometimes workshops or sessions are also sales vehicles to get attendees to consider signing up for coaching services. Many of the people you meet achieved their success because they hired a coach. Others found good ones through trial and error. If you are considering hiring a business coach, talk with fellow attendees. Find out who they work with and if they are happy with the results.
- Buy books. Industry conferences often feature a pop up store where session presenters have their books for sale. You might like a speaker and wonder what else they have to say. Buying their book is an inexpensive way to find out.
- Do the speakers have an eNewsletter? You attended a session ans learned a lot. Does this speaker have a way you can stay in touch afterwards? Years ago, they had mailing lists. Today, you supply your e-mail address, get an eNewsletter or visit their website, which gets updated often. This can help keep the flow of ideas coming.
- Does your firm have their own events? These are usually private. Senior management often attends. There might be an outside dinner. Make it a point to attend. Find out who the really successful people are who are doing the same job as you. Meet them. Find out if you can ask them questions. They should be agreeable.
- Setup breakfast meetings. When are you going to ask those questions? How about the next morning at breakfast. Invite them to join you. You are paying.
- Attend as many sessions as possible. There is a social aspect to these meetings, but they are primarily educational. Choose the sessions most useful for improving your practice. Fill your days with workshops and sessions. Pretend you are back in school.
- Meet your firm’s senior management. This couldn’t hurt. If they are having coffee, just finished a presentation or simply walking around, introduce yourself. Thank them for making attendance at the event possible. It cost the firm money to bring you here. Tactfully let them know you are attending as many sessions as possible.
Firms are big on conferences because it boosts productivity, morale and loyalty. You have invested your time to be here. Get the most out of your investment.