Spring is here and conference season has started. This year I'll be attending a couple of important conferences. In April I'll be attending the Non-profit Technology Conference held in Washington, DC from April 4 to 6 2007. (It's not too late to register, you can read more about it here). In May, I'll be at the Mesh Conference in Toronto. I enjoy going to conferences for many reasons, but, the main thing I'm going there for is to learn.
Attending conferences is a great way for non profit professionals to learn, expand their network and stay-up-to-date on issues facing their sector. Conferences are also a great opportunity for personal enrichment. There are many different reasons for attending conferences. Some attend as participants, while others attend as keynote speakers or seminar leaders. Whatever your reasons are for going to a conference, you can take steps to make your experience both a positive and rewarding one.
So I'd like to share a few tips I've learned for getting the most out of conferences. I'll cover all the points in a two-part series. This first post covers some tips and tricks on attending conferences as a participant. The second offers tips on attending as a presenter.
Before the Conference
Choose carefully - The first step to a successful conference is choosing the right conference to attend. Most conferences aren't cheap so it's important to make sure that your money is invested in the right place. The best way to evaluate a conference is to ask colleagues or friends who have attended in the past. If it's a new conference, use your own judgement by taking a look at the quality of the speakers and presenters and whether you are interested in them.
Arrive early - Whenever possible, try to arrive one day before the conference starts. Conference speakers and organizers usually arrive early and you can make great connections with them by just being there ahead of time.
A place to stay - Stay in the conference's designated hotel if possible. Sure you might find a less expensive hotel a little further, but you'll miss out on opportunities to meet new people.
Plan sessions ahead - Once you have decided on the conference and registered, take the time to plan ahead. Go beyond picking out the sessions and workshops you want to attend, and set your goals and objectives. Think about the things you want to walk away from the conference with. Answering the following questions might help get you started:
Why am I attending?
Who am I looking to meet?
Who did I promise I would get together with?
What sessions at the conference do I want to attend?
Familiarize yourself with the conference- Go online and read as much as you can about the conference to set up a list of sessions that you want to attend. Look at last year's conference information and find out who returns each year as speakers. By taking the time to learn about the conference, you will benefit more than if you didn't.
During the Conference
Attend the conference sessions - Once you've arrived at the conference, try to get to as many sessions as you can. You will learn a great deal from them. Also, arrive early to those sessions you plan to attend. Nothing is more frustrating than to arrive late or just at the time a session starts and not finding any seats.
Make contacts - One very important rule for conferences is to never eat alone. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are the best times you have to make contacts. Also, take advantage of networking opportunities when you can. You will have a great time and have the chance to talk to all these people you otherwise would not have had the time to meet.
Take notes - Always carry a pen and paper and take as many notes as you can. You do not have to rewrite everything the speaker says or copy all the slides. Just try to keep up with the general idea and ask questions. Most good conferences also give you session notes in electronic form. So print them out and take them with you.
Find the right balance - When you attend conference parties, keep in mind that potential employers or clients might be there. You are not really off the hook because you are out of town. Enjoy the occasion, while balancing partying and learning.
After the Conference
Book time to digest - After the conference is over it's time to really make use of your time away. Spend some time to go over your notes and materials while ideas are still fresh in your mind.
Follow up - You'll also want to follow up with all the people you met. So sort through your business cards and send emails. Even a short note saying "it was great to meet you at the conference" will do. Any email you send out as a follow-up will be appreciated and the sooner you send it after the conference the better.
Fulfill your promises. If you promised to send something then do it as you can get back from the conference. Don't delay or you might forget.
Make connections - Connect with your network online through LinkedIN. It's is an excellent way to increase your professional connections.
Report your experiences – Share what you learned at the conference with your colleagues. A brief overview will do, but if you prefer you can jot down some lessons learned and share the knowledge.
nptech nonprofit web2.0