The Epic Guide to Attending a Conference Without Wasting Your Time, Energy, and Money
You’ve shelled out a couple hundred, or maybe a couple thousand, bucks for registration.
You’ve booked your flights and an AirBnB.
You’re going to a conference.
It’ll take you away from your home, your family, and your usual work for a few days. Basically throwing off your entire routine.
Will it be worth it?
Will all the time, energy, and money spent on this conference actually pay off?
Every conference or retreat experience is different, so I can’t vouch for them all.
But I have figured out a way to make sure I don’t regret my decision to go to one with this step-by-step framework:
BEFORE THE CONFERENCE
- Know who else will be there before you register.
The easiest way to do this is by checking the conference’s website to have a look at their speaker lineup. This is nothing new – we all do this, right?Take it a step further by joining the host organization’s Facebook Group and/or following them on social media to see who else might be attending. Know the caliber of people you’ll be sitting next to during this experience to make sure they’re the kind of people you WANT to be surrounded with for a few days.
- Research the speakers and log their details in a spreadsheet for quick reference.
This might get a little Type A for you, but hear me out. Before I go to a conference, I spend a couple hours researching each of the speakers and putting their important information into a spreadsheet so I can easily find it and use it later.I log information like their name, their business name, their Instagram handle, and what projects they’ve recently been promoting.
This comes in handy when I randomly find myself in an elevator with one of them and I don’t want to blubber around like a crazy lunatic. To be frank.
- Queue up good questions for attendees.
You might be going to the conference to learn from the speakers, but the real value lies within the conversations you’ll have with attendees. That’s where the budding relationships will be formed.
As you learn more about the caliber of people who will be there, jot down a few thought-provoking questions you may weave into the conversation and then actively listen to those you’re talking to.NOTE: These are ESPECIALLY helpful for introverts. It can be so difficult to think of a conversation-starter in the moment, surrounded by people. Have them ready ahead of time so it’s an ease-full experience for all.
My favorite go-to’s are:
“What are you hoping to get out of the conference?”
“What was your number one, biggest takeaway from yesterday’s talks?”
“What do you intend to implement as soon as you get home?”
- Focus on your mindset the week preceding, visualizing yourself serving and having a fulfilling experience.
Here’s the thing – if you go into a conference thinking something negative, you’re going to have a negative experience.
If you’re thinking, “Ahh I’m so bad at meeting new people.” Guess what? You’re going to be bad at meeting new people.
If you’re thinking, “Ahh this conference schedule is so different from my usual routine, plus spending time in airports… I’m probably going to get sick from this.” Guess what? You’re going to get sick.Pay attention to your thoughts. And when a negative one creeps in, take control of it. Go in with positive thoughts and you’ll have a positive experience.
- Schedule a pre-conference day and a post-conference day with minimal appointments.
We’ve all done it before, right? Before a conference you think, “Ehhh I don’t need a day off after the conference. I’ll be fiiiiine.”
And then the day after the conference comes, you’re toooootally burnt out and can’t even speak in full sentences. Yeah.Don’t do that to yourself. Schedule a day before the conference to “charge your batteries” and a day after to recharge.
- Read a book on the way there that prepares your mind in the right way.
Again, your thoughts are powerful little things. Feed them the right fuel on your way to the conference so your mind and body are centered in the right place.As I traveled to New Orleans this past month for the Rising Tide Society’s Leaders’ Retreat, I read the book How to Win Friends and Influence People (affiliate link). Why? Because this introvert needed a refresher on how to simply relate to people.
And if you’ve never read the book, don’t judge me on the title. The entire book is about how to relate to people so you don’t come off as a total jerk, which in my mind, is only good for humanity.
DURING THE CONFERENCE
- Don’t be the girl who’s “terrible with names.”
This one will absolutely rub someone the wrong way, but I’m going to say it anyway.It is rude to admit to someone you’ll probably forget their name. By saying, “I’m terrible with names,” you’re also saying, “You’re not important enough for me to remember.”
It’s true, though. So don’t be that girl.
To be better with names, I jot everyone’s name down in the Notes app on my phone after meeting them, along with a memorable feature or two, like what they do and where they live, so I can commit them to memory. Then, every time I open that Note to jot down another name, I review the names already on the list.
And let me tell you – it’s the best feeling when you can call someone by their name later that day and watch their face light up because you actually remembered.
- Take sync-able notes (so they don’t sit in a random notebook somewhere for the next 4 years and weigh on your conscience).
It’s 2018, people. There is no reason to have that notebook sit on your shelf, staring at you, making you feel bad for taking alllll those notes and then never having the energy to go back through them.
There’s a better way.Here’s what I do:
I travel with my iPad, as opposed to my bigger, clunkier Macbook. And to make the iPad useable in a conference environment, I have it in a super inexpensive (as in $27.99 on Amazon) protective case with a Bluetooth keyboard (affiliate link), pictured here.
This case with keyboard (affiliate link) is a GODSEND. No more chicken scratch notes I can’t read or, even worse, missed one-liners I would’ve loved to write down but wasn’t fast enough with hand-writing everything.
Upgrade to taking notes on an iPad – DO IT – and then type your notes straight into a Google Doc, where it’ll automatically sync straight to your Google Drive. Then, when you get back home, the notes are already on your main computer for easy review, organization, and implementation. BOOM.
- Pour into your table or row more than the speakers.
We’ve all seen the guy who sits in the front row, asks a bunch of questions, and then hurries to speak with the presenter as soon as their mic is turned off… every. single. talk. of. the. weekend. Right?
Hey, kudos to that guy for his energy. To each his own.But here’s the deal – the presenter has valuable things to say, sure, that’s why they’re on the stage. But do you know where the real valuable conversations and insights lie?
With in the people sitting right next to you.
Mary Marantz said it beautifully at the RTS Leaders’ Retreat and I wholeheartedly agree with her. She said, “The speakers – they’re the leaders of today. But those sitting right there at your table – they’re the leaders of tomorrow. Pour into them.”
AFTER THE CONFERENCE
- Take the post-conference day off. Seriously.
I wasn’t joking. Do it.
- Organize and review your notes within 5 days of returning.
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. You spent all that time, energy, and money. It’s time to put it to work by reviewing your notes, identifying key takeaways, and creating an action plan for implementation.
- Send personal emails to those you met and had conversations with, following up and wishing them well.
Again, it’s within those personal conversations where the real value of a conference lies. Keep the conversation going by reaching out to those you met with a quick note.
- Send personal thank you notes to those who impacted you during the experience.
Just because the speakers you heard from were great enough to be on stage, doesn’t mean they don’t value hearing from the audience. If a particular speaker really spoke to you and changed the way you think about something, let them know with an honest note of gratitude. They deserve to realize their impact and it goes far beyond what you’d imagine.It also never hurts to share about them on social media and talk about them to your audience. That creates the ripple effect of their message they were hoping for.
Phew! I told you this was an EPIC GUIDE.
Now, I want to hear from you (and maybe even meet you IRL)! Tell me two things in the comments:
- Which of these tips do you intend to implement at the next conference you attend?
- What conferences are you going to this year?! I’d love to meet you in-person!!