As I write this, I'm three days away from Washington, D.C., and the 50th Annual League of Women Voters National Convention. And I'm freaking out a bit. You see, I have sporadic bouts of conference anxiety, wondering if and how I can make the most of the wisdom, opportunity, connections and expense that's packed into those few days or few hours. Add to my angst the rapidly approaching Minnesota Conference of Nonprofits Leadership Conference on June 26, and it's been a stressful start to summer.
- Own It. Why this conference? What's the takeaway? Are you attending on your employer's dime with the goal of specific knowledge harvesting? Are you looking to hone in on one particular topic or conversation? Be strategic, though. If you try and do too much and cast your net too wide, you'll walk away empty handed.
- Prep. Most conference information is made available online beforehand. Dig through it. Research presenters, sessions and attendees of interest, plus any notes or questions that come to mind beside each. Identify your first and second choice of session per time slot. If the first session doesn't grab you in the first 15 minutes, use the Law of Two Feet and bop over to your second choice - a session title and blurb can easily over-deliver, so have a backup plan.
- Hustle. For many, more is gained outside the session rooms and in the hallways. Avoid your friends! You can catch up with them after the conference. Remember point #1 and dive in, handshake first, to new connections. Exchange business cards. Inquire about the notes and questions you jotted down during your research. Plant seeds for follow up.
- Act. Take all the endless notes you want, but leave one page for specific action items. Star the doable ones. And with those business cards? Separate them into two piles and denote follow up on those with whom you want to take immediate action.
And in the end? Have fun. You've taken the important step (and investment) in attending. Now make the most of it.
How do you make the most of conferences? What are some tried and true tips as you prepare and attend events like this?