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How to Get the Most Out of Conferences

Attending a conference can be a smorgasbord of opportunity. But make sure to plan your menu first. Otherwise, you might end up having too much salad and be full once it's time for the main course. Get-It-Done Guy explains.

By
Stever Robbins,
Episode #347

Getting good value out of a conference is as much a science as it is an art.

This past New Year's I had the chance to attend a really cool event. It was like a TED conference, but without the attitude. Accomplished people from all walks of life got together and give presentations to each other, talk, laugh, drink, and, of course, put together a completely participant-created variety show as our New Year's entertainment before the almost-all-night dance party. It's great fun!

Some attendees only go once. Melvin didn't like it. He complained, "I didn't make a single good networking connection. We just talked, laughed, drank, and danced. What a waste of time!" 

This year, I was waffling. Do I sing with the chorus in the variety show? We sing new words to existing songs. We might take "Tradition" from Fiddler on the Roof and sing it as "Election! Election!" Then they said we were singing a song to the tune of "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen. It opens with a brief a cappella number, and earlier this year was my first experience singing tight harmonies.

How could I resist? This was my chance to sing a capella in front of 1,000 people. How cool is that? (Pentatonix, if you're listening, I want to be Mitch's understudy.)

When it was time to leave, however, my business card Ziploc was almost empty. (Check out my episode on how to keep business cards organized when you travel for details on the Ziploc). 

Puzzling. Most of the time, it has 10-30 cards from this event, and at least a couple of those people become close friends over the years. This year, no new close friends!!! Tragedy! How could this happen? I'll tell you how - poor planning.

Know Your Priorities Before a Conference

Before you attend a conference, spend a few minutes getting clear about your priorities. Look over the conference schedule and identify the sessions that will help you reach your goal.

My priority at this event is to make friends. The sessions that help with that are the interactive sessions. The more we have group discussions, the more my natural Get-It-Done Guy awesomeness connects with other people's Astrophysics awesomeness, or Mix-Media-Art awesomeness, or Entrepreneurial awesomeness. (That's a lot of awesome in one place!)

See also: 3 People You Have to Meet at Any Networking Event

 

Once we've met at a discussion, it's important to have time to hang out in the hotel lobby chatting, to deepen our connection. Singing isn't group discussion, nor does it give one-on-one time that an introvert like me needs to connect with others.

As much fun as it was to sing a cappella in front of some of the most famous sexologists in the world, I can sing at home. All it takes is a few phone calls to local musicians, the offer of free pizza, and a large bottle of scotch, and we have a passable rendition of "Little Drummer Boy" (are you listening, Pentatonix? Seriously. Rum pum pum pum).

But meeting and making new friends is why this conference is my favorite. The short-term lure of Queen hijacked my priorities! Two hours a day of rehearsal used up all the time in the schedule for meeting and connecting.

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