Get More from Conference Participation

carolGuest blogger, Caroline Avakian is the founder & CEO of SourceRise, a social enterprise connecting journalists to nonprofit subject matter experts and sources, and managing partner of  Socialbrite, a social media for nonprofits consultancy and digital learning hub.

Conference season is ongoing these days. So I was particularly pleased when, at the recent, Harvard Social Enterprise Conference, keynote speaker and Echoing Green president, Cheryl Dorsey, shared some valuable hints to us attendees on conference participation best practices.

Here are the helpful tips I learned—all easy to manage but packing a big punch. Bet that you’’ll be glad you set these in motion when you return from your next conference.

1. Start with the end in mind

What are the top three things you want to get out of this conference? Whether it’s meeting a particular attendee or speaker or gaining a better understanding of how to create a social media strategy for your nonprofit, the more specific you are, the likelier you are to walk out of that conference feeling satisfied and accomplished.

Also, something that stood out to me as being really powerful was that Cheryl mentioned being conscious of not only meeting those who can help you, but those who you can help as well. They are equally important.

2. Use your business cards to their fullest potential

In the flurry of meet and greets, it is likely you get home and don’t remember half of who those cards are from. To remedy this, think of one actionable item for each person you meet. Then write it on their business card before you walk out of the room.

3. Lessons learned

Take a minute and write down the three things you learned after each conference session you attend. It will all seem like less of a blur once you get back home and you’ll be able to take action on the items that really stood out.

What are some of your favorite conference-going tips and tricks? Please share them here.

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Guest Blogger on May 15, 2014 in Professional Development | 3 comments
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  • arielsalias

    I am generally pretty bad about consistently using Twitter, but I find conferences to be the best time to find new folks to follow and connect with on Twitter. I keep the conference hashtag up on my feed, and see who’s posting things that are most interesting to me. They are generally people I’ll want to follow and engage with after the conference is done.

  • LKitsch

    To be honest, 90 percent of what goes on at conferences is BS. If you are an experienced and knowledgeable professional, most of what the panelists (talking heads) say are things you already know, have heard before, or can read more quickly and efficiently. It is rare that I find a truly inspirational and enlightening panelist at a conference.

    So prepare in advance and really evaluate the topics on the agenda to determine if it’s information that will help you. Of course, networking and business development (if you are a consultant, for example) are often good enough reasons to attend a conference, but be sure you plan that, too, and put strategic thought and energy into who you meet and get to know.

    Finally, a word about cost—for those of you who work for someone else, you may be wasting your own time at a conference, but you are wasting someone else’s money, assuming you are on an expense account. Think about that first. However, for those of us who are self-employed, it goes even more deeply to making good business decisions because we could be wasting both our time and our money—I find myself thinking hard about return on investment, as in “is this conference really worth the $150 registration fee and the $500 for travel and hotel?”

  • Nedra Weinreich

    For me, at most conferences it’s what goes on outside the sessions that is most valuable. Find ways to connect with other people and make new friends/colleagues. If one of the speakers seems especially interesting, see if you can buy them a coffee at one of the breaks and chat. Use the Twitter backchannel to connect up with others for dinner and/or exploring in the evening. Don’t hesitate to identify the key people you want to talk to and reach out to them; they may have been feeling awkward because they didn’t know anyone at the conference and will be glad not to have to eat alone in their room. I’ve been on both ends of that and I’ve never regretted making a new connection.

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