Lists that will help you make the most from a Conference

My practices for getting the most out of attending a conference include making the lists outlined below.  As you read this post think about your tips for generating these lists.  What other lists do you find helpful?  Please share your replies in comments below this post.

In summary the lists are:

Make or start before the Conference:

  • Goals
  • People
  • Sessions
  • Exhibitors

Make during or shortly after the conference:

  • Key Takeaways / Insights
  • Actions
  • Relationship Follow Ups
  • Resources

Lists to make or start before the Conference

Goals

Complete this list before the conference begins.  Ask yourself: “Why am I going to this conference?  What do I want to get out of this conference?”

This list could include a general theme you will use to orient your activities at the conference, e.g. Collaboration, Strategy, Leadership, Science of Learning, Technology, Thought Leadership.  For theme ideas consider your professional development plan / direction, work projects, topics you’ve been reading about recently, a recent or upcoming challenge / opportunity.

Include more specific outcomes, for example:

  • To get ideas for enabling informal learning in my organisation
  • To improve learning evaluation in my organisation
  • To use learning science to improve learning strategy in my organisation
  • To identify next steps in building my thought leadership
  • To meet people with experience in XYZ

List a maximum of three specific outcomes to help you to focus.

People

Ask yourself:   “Why do I want to interact with people at this conference?  Who do do I want to meet or interact with?”

Start this list before the conference.  Think about your WHY first – consider the following:

  • Your conference goals – who or what type of people are relevant to these goals?
  • Your professional network – are there gaps you’d like to fill or people you’d like to renew or strengthen your relationship with?
  • Is there something you are involved with that you’d like to promote or advocate?
  • If you Work Out Loud, look at your relationship list .
  • What contribution(s) would you like to make to others at the conference?

Enjoying yourself and having a little fun is a good reason to interact too!

Be selective when making your list as you are unlikely to be able to interact meaningfully with everyone who is there.  Use your WHY to develop and then prioritise your list if it is long.

Look at the conference website and program to view speakers / facilitators, organisers, advisory committee members, sponsors and exhibitors.  Find out who is coming to the conference.  Contact people in your network and ask if they are attending or know anyone who is.  Do a Twitter search on the conference hashtag to see who is using it.  Check the Twitter account of the conference hosts / organisers and subscribe to their Twitter list for the conference, or start your own event Twitter list.

What other ideas do you have for finding out who is going to the conference?

In addition to listing specific individuals, think about what ‘type’ of people you would like to meet.  For example, people who:

  • Have a specific skill or type of experience
  • work in a certain type of role, industry or organisation
  • come from a specific country, region or city
  • Have similar conference goals to you
  • are in a certain age bracket
  • are in a different profession to you
  • are different to you in some way
  • write blogs or articles

Update your list during the conference as you discover new people, get insights from sessions and discussions, and referrals from other attendees.

Sessions

Look at the conference program and pick what sessions you want to attend. Often exhibitors present informal sessions about their area of expertise or products and services, so look at these too.  Assess relevance of sessions to your goals and whether they sound appealing to you.  Read session descriptions and speaker biographies in the program or conference website.  Search online for content that the speaker has created (e.g. articles, videos), interviews with them or information about their work.

Identify sessions relevant to your goals, or being presented by people that you’d like to interact with or learn from.  If there are a lot of concurrent breakout sessions that you are interested in find out if any of them are being recorded so that you can view them after the conference.  If you are attending the conference with colleagues or people in your network you could go to different breakout sessions and discuss sessions / share notes with them afterwards.

Consider attending at least one session that is on a topic outside of your normal field of interest – to be open to serendipity and the opportunity to learn something new.

Be flexible during the conference.  You may get new information or an insight which changes your session choices.  If you are in a session and not getting what you need from it then it’s okay to leave.  Use the time to try another session, speak to exhibitors or meet with people.

Exhibitors

Exhibitors help cover conference costs, so it’s good form to spend some time in the exhibition area.  There may be some overlap with your People list, and the factors impacting which exhibitors you visit are similar to the People list.  Think about what types of services or products you’d like to learn about to figure out which exhibitors to visit and what you’d like to achieve.  This could range from simply thanking sponsors to a brief conversation and collecting literature or a product demonstration.

You could make an initial Exhibitors list before or at the start of the conference – whenever you have access to information on Exhibitors.  At a large conference, walk right around the exhibition area and identify which booths you’d like to return to.  You may need to prioritise this list.

Lists to make during or shortly after the Conference

Key Takeaways / Insights

Look through your session notes and identify a short list of key takeaways or insights from each session.  See my post from Enterprise Collaboration TechFest for an example of what this might look like.  You can do the same for your interactions with people and visits to exhibitors, as well as personal reflections on specific or overall experiences at the conference.

Putting these all into a single location helps you to synthesise what you heard and discussed in order to identify key themes or recurring ideas you picked up at the conference.  It also makes it easy to review what you learned at a conference at a later point.

Actions

Definitely start this list at the conference while things are fresh in your mind.  Make a list of all actions you are considering taking as a result of your conference experiences.  Get it all down.  Think of it as a someday/maybe list.  Use whatever tool or system works for you – paper or electronic.  After the conference read through your list and highlight anything you are committing to do.  Look at your goals list before you do this to provide context.  Move highlighted items to your regular action / to do list – then get on with it.

As an extension activity set up a learning transfer buddy agreement with someone at the conference.  This is a great idea I picked up from Emma Weber of Lever – Transfer of Learning.  I’ll update this post with a link to details of how to set up your agreement so you make maximum progress.

Relationship Follow Ups

Developing your network is a key benefit of attending a conference.  Relationship follow ups are a special set of actions which warrant a separate list.  You can include both specific actions you are committed to doing as well as possible future connections and contributions you could make to a person.

Again, start this list at the conference, especially if you make specific promises to anyone.  Write down the name of the person, follow up action and target date. Ensure you have their contact details or know where to find them online.  Add them to your online network as you go by sending them a LinkedIn invitation or following them on Twitter – or do this shortly after the conference if you prefer.

Make brief notes about who you meet and interact with, including valuable informal discussions.  You could write key points on business cards.  Look through your notes after the conference and add to your follow up list.

Resources

Make a list of resources that speakers mention which sound interesting and potentially useful.  This will include books, articles, other publications, videos, podcasts, websites, organisations or associations, and tools.  Add suggestions from exhibitors and other attendees.

Speakers sometimes provide access to additional resources via a hyperlink or email address. Even if you access these resources on the spot it can be helpful to add these to your consolidated resources list for future reference.

Where to make your lists

In a nutshell, wherever and however it suits you.  You may have existing systems you use rather than making standalone lists.  For example:

  • Write goals in your electronic journal – I keep mine on Evernote.
  • Create a Twitter list for people and exhibitors.
  • Tweet key insights then use Storify to collate them.
  • Add actions straight into your ‘to do’ software/app with a category or tag for the conference so you can sort and review them later.
  • Curate resources straight to a social bookmarking tool such as Diigo or Pearltrees

There’s always an old-fashioned notebook or index cards.  Whatever approach you use, make it convenient and efficient for you to use.

Over to you

What are your tips for these lists?  Are there other lists you like to make before, during or after a conference?

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