For many people summer is a busy time for conferences and seminars. Whether you’re headed to an event soon or don’t have one planned for months, you’ll want to hold on to these great tips to help you get the most out of your experience. They’ll also help you diffuse the anxiety that can be common with larger conferences. Use the tips that resonate with you, exhale, let go of feeling overwhelmed, and make the most of your event.

Don’t stress about the sessions

Don’t stress about which breakout sessions you’ve picked. Ask yourself which areas you need to focus on as your highest priority and pick those. There may be several others you’d love to attend but they overlap. It’s ok. Look for sessions that are best for you, and don’t worry if they aren’t the same sessions that your friends or peers gravitate towards. Pick those sessions that “speak to you” and will help you to develop the skill set you’re seeking both in breadth and depth.  If you have the opportunity to look through handouts of the slides in advance, take a minute to thumb through the slides to ensure the sessions’ material aligns with your expectations. Once in a session if you find it isn’t what you thought, or you realize it wasn’t the best choice for you, politely slip out of the session and join another that is more appropriate for you.

“Flag” your notes

Conferences provide a wealth of handouts capturing session notes with space to jot down your own thoughts or takeaways. As you listen to a speaker, use the margin to flag content that you’ll want to reference after you’re home. This will allow you to quickly locate aha’s after the event is over. After the event go through your notes and assign yourself due dates for the action items in your notes. Be realistic and don’t sent them all due within the next month. Feel free to use these abbreviations or create your own:

  • AI – Action Item
  • R – Resource or Reference
  • Q – Quote
  • W – Wisdom

Plan to Connect 

One of the best parts of a conference is the opportunity for networking. Resist the urge to simply pass out a stack of business cards with brief to no real interaction. Instead opt to engage in conversation with those around you. It’s about connecting. Make the most of the time at a conference to reconnect with people you know, build on existing relationships while establishing new contacts. Participate in social media forums for the conference that allow you to connect to other participants online. After the event be sure to connect via LinkedIn or other social media as appropriate.

Make a note

When you meet someone new, jot down a brief note on the conversations you’ve had, something you have in common, or where you met your new contacts so that you don’t lose the context after the event. You can do this on the back of their business card or on a small sticky note that you attach to their card. At the end of the day or on a break is a good time to add notes to cards you’ve received before you forget or have too many to go through at once. This will give you points of connection when you have the opportunity to connect again.

Ask questions

Be bold and ask that question that you have. Often someone else in the crowd has the same question but lacks the confidence to ask it. If you have multiple questions, pick the most pressing or highest priority question you have. Don’t monopolize the question time; instead allow others in the room opportunity to ask their questions.

Play Musical Chairs

Switch it up. Don’t sit at the same table for each meal or in the same seat in sessions. Take the opportunity to sit on the other side of the room. You’ll meet people you’d otherwise miss. And, when you sit down to people you haven’t met, introduce yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

Pick three 

At the end of the event, look through the action items you’ve marked or jotted down. Pick three that you will accomplish first. Give each a due date and establish a plan to achieve those items. Resist the urge to tackle everything at once. Instead prioritize. Revisit additional action items as you complete your prioritized items.

Make an appointment

Make a date with yourself to revisit what you’ve learned. Pick a date a month or two out from the conference and plan time to read through your notes, assess your progress, and revisit your plan. Review your due dates for your action items and make a plan to continue your progress. This will help solidify the knowledge you learned at the conference and help your growth stay on track.

Follow up.

Stay connected with the people you met at the conference. Facebook groups and social media are great places to connect. If you enjoyed a presenter, be sure to sign up for their blog or email list so that you can continue to benefit from their knowledge and encouragement after the event. Drop an email to the people you met or schedule a time to call or skype. Continue to encourage one another as you continue on your path of professional or personal development.

Closing Thoughts

It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned conference attender or a complete newbie. If you show up with the right attitude determined to make the most of the experience, and look for opportunities to learn and network, you will grow. When packing, leave fear at home. While you’re at it, leave anxiety behind as well. Even the experts were once a newbie. You will encounter people who are further on the journey than you, or you may find people who are at square one. The benefit of conferences is everyone can learn something from each other.

Are you headed to a conference this summer? What are you looking forward to most about it? As for me…in another week I’m heading to the fabulous Speak Up conference in Grand Rapids. It’s a highlight of my summer each year. I’ll be using these tips while I make the most of the event! If you don’t have a seminar or conference planned, why not search for one that interests you and give yourself the opportunity to grow professional or personally. Is there an area you’re feeling “called” to explore, or a skill  or hobby that you’d love to develop? You might be surprised to find what is available.

What are your tricks to making the most of a conference? Are there any of these you plan to try the next time you’re at a conference? I’d love to hear from you… click to comment and to join the conversation.

And of course… if you’re headed to Speak Up, I look forward to seeing you there!