Conferences, workshops, conventions, seminars, leadership development and industry trainings. Love them or hate them, professional events are truly an opportunity to grow and learn in your chosen field. But unless you go in with a plan, there is zero chance you are making the most of the opportunity to get out of the office and expand your knowledge.
Back in November I had the chance to attend Rise Business, a personal development conference that focused specifically on building key skills for entrepreneurs and business leaders.
It was me, my best friend and 6,200 strangers listening to mega-minds like Rachel Hollis, Amy Porterfield, Trent Shelton, Dean Graziosi, Chris Hogan and Brendon Burchard as they took the stage in a series of back-to-back(-to-back) masterminds and mini courses – everything from goal setting, email list building, business forecasting, finance and sales. It was three days of nonstop learning and, let’s be real, Kool-Aide drinking.
I came out on fire, so excited about all the information I wanted to implement to our business – Literally tackling Julia when I saw her at the gym two days later to unload all my excitement in less than five minutes.
Flash forward two months and my experience is paying off big time for us. But it was not without some strategic planning ahead of time and thoughtful navigation after.
Here are my tips for navigating industry and professional development conferences.
GO IN WITH A PLAN
Talk to your boss before heading to the conference. Review the event with your team and assess what areas will most benefit you. Are you looking to gain leads, insight, a specific roadmap for the year ahead? Know why you are taking time out of your workday.
Something I did well: I knew that I really wanted to gain knowledge for a key area of business we are focusing on in 2020. I went into the conference with three very specific areas I have had little experience with to date in my career and went all in to prepare for those talks ahead of time.
What I’ll do better next year: I underestimated how much actual work I would be able to crank out in the morning or during lunch. It didn’t serve my experience at the event, or my clients and team back at home to have me half responding between sessions. Next year, I will be more intentional ahead of time with dedicating my time to the experience of learning and growing.
GET TO KNOW THE AGENDA
You will likely know the list of speakers ahead of time. Bone up on their expertise and topic being covered, research articles written. For conventions with vendors and potential new leads – do a little digging and create a map of what you want to accomplish on any given day.
Something I did well: I got fanatical about each of the speakers ahead of time. I geeked out on their podcasts, books and resources. It gave me a chance to dig a little deeper into the material.
What I’ll do better next year: Planning my bathroom breaks! I did not expect that I would have to be choosy with that information I would need to miss because of bathroom lines.
BRING BUSINESS CARDS
Chances are you will be in a room, conference center or stadium chock full of people who are either in the same industry or a potential customer. Home your elevator pitch and pass out those business cards.
Pro tip: for every card you hand out, you need to be receiving one as well. Be sure to make a note about each person you meet (I like writing down a thought directly on the business card) and carve out time after the conference to follow up individually with everyone you meet.
What worked well for me: By day three of the event, I was directly connecting with people on LinkedIn in the moment.
What I will do better next year: I will, without a doubt, be more proactive with networking right out of the gate. Once my section got to know each other we learned so much, not just from the conference, but each other.
WRITE SH*T DOWN
You are investing your time, and potentially money (or your company’s money) to spend time expanding your knowledge base. It would be a darn shame to come back with just a head full of knowledge that starts fading with the first movie you watch on the plane ride home.
Bring a dedicated notebook (if the conference isn’t providing a workbook for the event) that you can dedicate as many pages as you need to the topics being covered.
Something that worked well for me: With this conference, I kept a dedicated page for suggested readings. Every time a speaker referenced an author, book, podcast or Instagram Influencer, I wrote it down on that page. I now have my reading list for the year and am slowly ticking through it.
What I will do better next time: Someone in the event’s Facebook group made the brilliant suggestion of bringing post it notes and creating a tab for every action item that comes up. I thought this was GENIUS.
SCHEDULE A FOLLOW UP WITH YOUR TEAM
Once you have returned, take a couple of days to gather your thoughts and then set up a dedicated time to discuss your learnings. Plan to present a plan for how to implement new initiatives.
Something that worked well for me: After my initial excitement explosion, Julia and I set up a two-hour session where I was able to detail the big findings, open a dialog and focus on what we were going to do with all my new found knowledge. We actively used that information to start implementing strategies and building out our 2020 plan.
What I’ll do better next year: Now that the initial excitement has settled in, and I have this first conference under my belt, I’ll be able to go back next year with an even more detailed plan and strategic outline for what I want to bring home to grow our business even more.
Pro Tip: Industry Events and Conferences are a major way to grow your network and build those relationships that can make an impact when it comes to Job Hunting!
Liz Helton of Holian Associates is a Personal Branding Expert and Resume Writer based in Northern California. She helps entry to senior level professionals step into the next phase of their career with confidence by helping uncover their unique stories and providing the tools to develop a clear understanding of their skills, experience, talents and goals. Previously, Liz spent nearly 10 years in Public Relations, giving her the unique ability to craft concise messaging points and develop story-based resumes that spark action. Liz has a B.A. in Journalism (Public Relations) from California State University, Chico, and is an active member of the National Resume Writers’ Association. Learn more about Liz on our website and at www.LinkedIn.com/in/lizhelton.