Spring is in the air and for the nonprofit community, that means the first wave of CONFERENCE SEASON! As someone who has attended and spoke at dozens of conferences, I thought it was time to buck the trend of telling you what to do at a conference and focus on what NOT to do.
Here are a few tips to help you navigate what NOT to do at these conferences:
- DON’T miss opportunities to learn more from the conference speakers
- Most speakers sign up to speak at conferences because they are passionate to tell the world about <INSERT SPEAKING TOPIC>. Use their sessions as chances to learn more about their topics of interest and expertise… and follow up! Most will give out their website, blog info, email address, even their phone numbers. Follow up!
- I have discovered a lot of cool reading materials, additional content, and ideas just by following up with the speakers that I enjoyed hearing. At the very least, follow up and tell them how much you enjoyed their session (Hint: speakers LOVE that)
- DON’T forget to network
- The best opportunities are often round tables and informal discussions, usually hosted during breakfast and lunchtimes.
- Use evening networking events as a chance to circle back with people who attended the sessions you were in. It is always interesting to hear how others interpreted sessions and how they will apply the content to their organization.
- DON’T forget to purposefully write down notes, thoughts, and ideas
- For taking notes, I like to go old school. I have tried to take notes on my iPad, but it doesn’t really work well for me. I like to carry a small notebook with me to make notes about topics that piqued my interest, sketch out pictures and diagrams, jot down suggested reading, even details about the people I met to remember them (what they wore, stories, quotes).
- One helpful tip for remembering who you met and what they said: Insert paper clips ahead of time into the notebook to easily affix business cards to the notes page for that person.
- DON’T overwhelm yourself with trying to implement 31,597 different ideas when you get back to the office
- I usually shoot to come back with 2-3 solid ideas (and lots more to possibly put on the side or back burner) with a framework about how to move the ideas forward and who else I think should be involved.
- To organize all of my thoughts, I go over my notes at night and prioritize them by level of difficulty/importance (I use simple coding techniques like “P1, P2, P3” to identify level of priority).
- I always keep a highlighter in my purse to highlight key takeaways (and highlight the session grid with my must-see sessions!!) This also helps me start to create the outline for the conference update that I will present to my coworkers and executives back at the office.
- DON’T forget to “taste” some of the local flavor and sights
- For many of us, conference locations are at least a plane ride away, so take a few minutes to enjoy the local sights, delicacies or traditions!
- I am always a big fan of doing a quick walk around the area during a long break or the time between sessions and the evening activities. I usually stumble upon something cool (like the fortune cookie factory I once discovered around the corner from my hotel in San Francisco. For future reference: fortune cookies do not travel well on a cross country flight) or a spot newsworthy enough for my nightly phone call back to my family and even if I don’t, a little exercise never hurt anyone after sitting in uncomfortable chairs all day.
- Bonus points for those of you who take back souvenirs for your co-workers.
- DON’T forget to check the extended weather forecast. Sounds simple, but as my grandma always told me, “Dress for the weather, not the season.” When in doubt, throw that last minute sweater or jacket into your bag. Conference rooms are notoriously kept year-round at sub arctic temperatures.
- One final note for those who you NOT attending conferences in person this year, DON’T FORGET to virtually check out the conference website site for any conference presentations, live broadcasts, or other materials that might be available to non-attendees. You may not have the experience of dancing in the conga line with your fellow attendees in person, but you will definitely find some value in being a part of the conference “virtually”.
I look forward to possibly seeing you at one or more conferences this year!
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