Spring is approaching along with the industry conference season. Thousands of delegates converge on cities often known for fun and entertainment. Hosting conferences in places people want to visit is a draw to increase attendance. Unfortunately, this brings it’s own share of problems.
1. Do not consider the conference as a paid vacation. Years ago, companies organized conferences as recognition trips. Spouses were included. Pillow presents motivated attendees who earn six figures to rush back to their hotel rooms to see what luxury gift item the firm delivered to their room that night. Today, conferences are considered training meetings.
Do: Consider the conference as a learning event. If you would like a vacation, extend your stay for a couple of nights before or after the conference.
2. Do not buy into “Attending the general session is for chumps” mindset. Some people do not want to get up early and attend meetings. They sleep in after partying at night. They feel the platform sessions are for the new people attending the conference. They have heard it all before.
Do: Bear in mind technology has advanced to the point where conference attendees often scan into sessions with their registration badges. The firm will know if you skipped meetings.
3. Do not assume “I can get my CE credits later in the year.” Many professions require professionals to attain a certain amount of credits to keep their licenses current. One of the features of industry conferences is providing opportunities to get these credits. The longer in the year you wait, the harder it will be to get them as year end approaches.
Do: Before the conference, review the agenda and see which workshops award CE credits. Sign up for as many as you can. Maybe you can complete your annual requirement at the conference.
4. Do not sit in the back of the workshop and scroll through e-mails and social media. Some people show up but do not engage. You came across these folks in college classes too. Some people sit up front, others in the back row.
Do: Take the workshop seriously. Meet the speaker. Exchange business cards. Ask questions. Access and review the study materials.
5. Do not avoid the vendor section. Conferences have sponsors. They might have short educational lectures taking place at scheduled times in a dedicated theater in the vendor area. Do not have the attitude “I don’t want people to try and sell me something,” especially if you are in the sales business yourself.
Do: Walk around the vendor area during break time. See who you know at different booths. These might be the same wholesalers or sales reps that call on your office. Review the program for the lectures presented in the theater.
6. Do not fail to see the big picture. A major focus of conferences is “The state of the industry.” The organizers often bring in industry experts as keynote speakers. These presentations are usually backed up by research and the slides are available.
Do: Step back and take it all in. Ask the presenter an insightful question. Clients back home will be impressed when you tell the story later.
7. Do not assume all presentations and workshops are intendid to sell you something. This is an easy assumption to make if they are supported by sponsorship or are talking about tools based on technology. The sponsors are probably required to provide educational training.
Do: Consider your niche. Think about your business plan. Where are your weak spots, those areas you need to learn more about. Review the conference agenda and mark off the sessions where you will get the most benefit.
8. Do not stick with your friends for the entire conference. You traveled with friends from the office. You are comfortable around them. You know some fellow delegates you only see at the annual meeting. It is easy to only spend time with people you know.
Do: Attend the mixer type receptions. Meet new people. If first time attendees wear a special badge, congratulate them on attending their first conference. Make them feel welcome. Chat with the people sitting around you once the workshop is over. Take an empty seat at lunch next to someone you never met. Expand your circle of connections.
9. Do not avoid the area selling books by speakers. It is amazing how people in sales can be resistant to people trying to sell them something! You might have listened to a great speaker. You have a team back in the office. How are you going to share the ideas you learned?
Do: A good way to share ideas with your team is to buy the book they wrote and bring it home. You might read it first, highlighting the sections that impressed you during their presentation.
10. Do not spend nights in town carousing. The cities chosen for conferences are often places known for their party atmosphere. You are a stranger in a strange land. You might still be wearing your conference ID card of a cord around your neck. You look like a tourist. You could get mugged. If you drank too much and behaved badly, you could get arrested.
Do: If you want to socialize with fellow delegates, try to do it at the conference hotels. These are often connected to the conference center by walkways. There should be bright lights and plenty of cameras. It should be a safer environment. The presence of senior management might mean rounds of drinks are picked up. (A good thing.) It may also moderate behavior. (Another good thing.)
Conferences are a good thing for many reasons. Try to be sure your time at the meeting is well spent.