Heading off to a conference soon? Need some conference tips?  Here’s how to get your money’s worth from this experience.

Charles Jones said “You will be the same person in five years as you are today, except for the people you meet and the books you read.” Earlier this year when I MC’d the AITD/ARTDO International Conference I put a slightly different twist on this quote. I said “You will be the same person you are at the end of this conference except for the speakers you hear, the exhibitors you visit and the contacts you make.”

I attend and speak at conferences around Australia. They are great for professional development but even more importantly, they are great for reconnecting and building your network.

Conference tips – here are five ways for you to get the most out of your next conference.

1. Go prepared

Think about what you would like to get out of the conference, what you’d like to see and who you’d like to meet. Research the speakers a little and think up some questions you’d like to ask them. There’s always an opportunity and if you have a question ready ahead of time you can be the first one in. You could even contact them via LinkedIn or Twitter and let them know you are looking forward to seeing and hearing them speak.

Now is also the time to perfect your grab. Your grab is your response to the question “So… what do you do?” Rather than say “Oh, I’m just a practice manager” Say “I am the practice manager for Fantastic Lawyers in SA. I help our team do what they do best and this year we won the Adelaide Law Firm of the year award for the fourth year in a row.”

2. Be brave

Now is the time to don your ‘confidence cloak’. For many of us networking does not come easily, and we often feel self-conscious meeting people for the first time. My recommendation is to wear something professional that you feel good in and practice a few icebreakers. My favourite conversation starters at events are:

• The venue – “Have you been to the Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre before?”
• The food – “Did you try the lemon tarts? Soooo worth the calories!”
• The speaker – “So, are you a fan of General Gosgrove?”
• The event – “Are you a member of ALPMA?”
• Significant news of the day – “Did you hear who won the ALPMA/Telstra Thought Leadership Awards last night?”
• A compliment – “I love your jacket; red is my favourite colour to wear.”

3. Get there early

It’s always easier to walk into a room before the masses arrive and rescue a wall flower. There is always a person standing there looking lost because their friend has not arrived as yet. Go up to them and say “I don’t know anyone here so I thought I’d come up and introduce myself.” Congratulations – You’ve just made a friend for life.

If you are attending a conference for the first time, or don’t know anyone else attending, look for host stand in the Trade Exhibition and introduce yourself the people who are running the booth. They will happily introduce you to other members, delegates and exhibitors.

4. Make the most of the breaks

As tempting as it is to check your emails and make some calls, remember to be present and make the most of the experience. Grab your lunch and walk over to meet someone new – you never know what may come out of that meeting. Take the time to introduce yourself to the exhibitors and visit each booth. I find this is the quickest and easiest way to find new developments that are occurring in your industry.

5. Follow up

Write on the back of their business card a brief description and what you chatted to them about. Make a note if you promised to send them something and follow up within the week. I find one of the easiest ways to stay in touch is to connect on LinkedIn. Make sure you download the free LinkedIn Contacts app before you go, as it enables you to save a new contact as well as make notes on where you met them and who introduced you.

At the end of the conference you will be a different person. It could be due to the speakers you heard or the exhibitors you visited, but most likely it is because of the people you met. Rarely do we have an opportunity to share ideas and information with like-minded individuals. Conferences provide an opportunity to do this. Follow these five conference tips and you’ll make the most out of your next conference.

Sharon Ferrier
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All Good Presentations Start With a Confident Speaker

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