Conferences, along with other learning opportunities like webinars and online courses, can be overwhelming, especially when you’re new to the game. Yes, some people attend these programs because their employer or professor required them to, but when you’re there because you really want to be—to learn and network and grow professionally—the rewards can be enormous.
These do's and don’ts will help you stay focused and maximize learning at a conference, seminar, or webinar. Most of these tips are applicable for an online chat, Periscope, or podcast too.
Do . . .
Prioritize your own learning
The day before the event begins, write down on an index card the three main things you want to learn. Many professional development programs have dozens of terrific speakers, workshops, and panel discussions. It’s impossible to get the most of the event if you don’t focus your intentions. Once you identify your three key learning areas, select the appropriate sessions and speakers to spend time with. Use your index card to remind yourself of your goals during the event, especially if you feel there’s too much information.
Take lots of notes
Organizers usually provide attendees with slides or a handout, but be sure to jot things down in your own language and style. Short punchy nuggets and phrases will help you recall the important messages from speakers or other participants.
Conclude each session with “Start. Stop. Continue.”
At the end of each breakout session or program, answer the following questions: What’s the one thing I just learned I will start doing? What’s the one thing I just learned that I will stop doing? What’s the one thing I just learned that I will continue doing? This is your action plan when you get back to work or class.
Identify three people you want to meet
At a conference or seminar, think about the face-to-face access you will have to successful people in your industry. Review the list of presenters and agenda, and target three people you are eager to meet. Prior to the event, drop each one an e-mail, expressing your enthusiasm about their area of expertise. Invite them for a cup of coffee. Be clear on your intention and respectful of their time as well.
Don’t . . .
Be afraid to ask for an interview
If you write a blog, consider yourself a “cub reporter” and ask one of the top speakers if you can interview him or her. My suggestion is to e-mail the request in advance (see the above tip) so the person isn’t blindsided. When they agree, prepare a list of timely and compelling questions. Consider using an audio recorder on your phone so you don’t get caught up in scribbling accurate notes. You’ll also be able to refer back to the recording when you return from the conference and write your post.
Ignore the other participants
Learning opportunities abound in live and online programs. The instructor or speaker isn’t the only person who has valuable information that can help you progress in your education and career. Pay attention to the other attendees, introduce yourself, and follow them online. There is real value in having made that one-on-one connection.
Forget to rest and recharge
Conferences—especially the big ones that attract hundreds of people—can take a toll on our physical and emotional energy. Recognize the need to refresh by taking a short nap, skipping that extra snack, or sitting in a different part of the venue for some peace and quiet. A brisk walk outside can also help rejuvenate you.
Sit with people you already know
You may feel awkward, but this is a great way to meet new people and boost your self-confidence. Sit at a table or in a group of people you’ve never met. At the very least, this exercise will help you develop the art of making small talk and learning about others from different organizations, geographic locations, and more.
Forget all you’ve just learned
Finally, when the event or program ends, make a list of the top 10 takeaways you learned—and can apply—immediately. Review the list daily, implementing one new practice at a time.