Maximizing Your Conference Experience

Industry conferences are packed full of new and exciting opportunities: sessions, workshops, networking, meetups, and happy hours galore! As exhilarating as conferences can be, they can also be overwhelming if you don’t know what to expect. That’s why it’s important you know how to make the most of each one.

Whether it’s your first conference or your hundredth, you should start with a plan. Lean on these fourteen tips to make sure you get the most out of your next conference.

Plan for Success

Showing up to a conference without a plan is the easiest way to throw away a great investment. A little pre-conference prep can go a long way in making sure you have the right tools, the right mindset, and the right education to take advantage of every opportunity.

1. Pack smart

You won’t need to bring six pairs of shoes to most events, but there are a few event essentials you’ll bring to every conference to make it as stress-free as possible.

  • Business cards
    • You’ll be meeting a lot of people, and business cards are the quick and dirty way to trade contact info. If you have trouble remembering names and faces, take note of the conversations you had with people over the course of each day.
  • Notebook and pen, phone, chargers, and portable battery packs
    • Taking notes with a pen and paper can help you resist the temptation of using a laptop to answer work emails in a session that could be really valuable. Plus, leaving the laptop in your hotel room means a lighter bag to carry throughout the day!
    • Beyond the tech basics, you may want to download the LinkedIn and Twitter apps to expand your network during the conference. Social platforms offer a wealth of opportunity to engage with other attendees before, during, and after the conference as well.
  • Conference clothing
    • Conference venues can get really cold and you’ll often be doing a lot of walking around or standing at cocktail tables during happy hours. Bring a jacket to account for varying temperatures (pockets are especially handy for the dozens of business cards you’ll get), and wear comfortable shoes so you can wander from one end of the venue to another without issue.
  • Creature comforts
    • Unfamiliar hotel beds, late-night industry events, and all those happy hours can take a toll on your body. Pace yourself! Taking care of your mind and body during the non-stop schedule means you’ll feel better, think better, and be best equipped to do your best work when you get home. Consider bringing melatonin for good sleep, drink lots of water, and bring your favorite snacks or tea from home to put your best foot forward.

2. Create an agenda in advance

Most conferences release an agenda with session and workshop descriptions a few days (if not longer) before the event. Take the time to look through your options before the event kicks off. Look for sessions that seem relevant or exciting.

You can also do some digging online to learn which speakers are experts in certain areas, industries, etc. See if you can find other videos of theirs online and get a feel for which sessions might be most relevant if you’re struggling to decide between options.

3. Get your ducks in a row at work

One of the biggest mistakes people make at conferences is showing up and spending all their time doing office work! When you attend an event, plan to put your everyday workload on hold. You or your company have paid to be there; be present and give your peers and the event your full attention wherever possible. You’ll get far more out of it by fully investing your time and energy.

Pro tip: Your out-of-office email is a fantastic way to show off your skills and your enthusiasm. Let your colleagues know that you’ll be offline for the duration of the conference and share what you’re geeking out over while you’re gone.

Make Meaningful Connections

4. Find creative ways to network

Networking starts before the conference. If the conference has an official app, download it beforehand. Use Slack, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to find out if any of your social media connections will be there and let them know you’ll be attending. This is a great opportunity to turn internet friends into real friends.

Conferences can be busy, and sometimes people only have odd little bits of time here and there to connect. Offer to walk or take a cab to events together or share a morning run. Grab breakfast, or even do a fun new activity in the city together.

5. Don’t be shy

Speakers are people, too! They’ve worked hard on their content, and they’re often delighted at the opportunity to answer questions after their session. Don’t be afraid to wait off stage to ask a question or exchange contact info; rubbing elbows with the experts can help you expand your network strategically.

If you’re too nervous to engage in person first, Twitter and LinkedIn are great places to share a speaker’s awesome content, ask questions, and make a new friend. You can also ask existing friends and colleagues to make warm introductions to their connections to alleviate the pressure of doing everything alone.

6. It’s only weird if you make it weird

Small talk can quickly become exhausting. Plus, “what is your name?” and “who do you work for?” only get you so far when getting to know others. Try asking about someone’s favorite session, whether they’ve visited the conference city before, or what puzzles they’re solving at work to open a conversation. You’ll find that many of your most respected and valuable industry connections are friends first and email experts second.

To that end, embrace the awkwardness that is meeting loads of new people! Few people feel perfectly comfortable standing in a corner alone, but it’s far better to endure a brief and awkward introduction than to bury your face in a screen and miss out on new connections. Don’t be afraid to walk up and say hello.

Put Conference Takeaways to Work

8. Take notes

Too often, attendees pack a room for a session only to stare at their social media feeds or emails on their mobile device. Do yourself a favor and go old school by bringing a pen and pad to every session you attend, and take notes on key insights you find interesting. Avoid bringing in your laptop to take notes, as it can come across as rude to speakers and other attendees and can be too easy a distraction for your neighbors.

Jot down interesting takeaways and things you can take back to the office. In your notes, highlight things you know you’ll want to revisit or dig into further. Oftentimes, session recordings or slide decks are made available to attendees after the event and can be very helpful in referencing alongside your notes.

Pro tip: If you do want to use Twitter to share what you’re learning in each session, consider tweeting from your notes after the session instead. Not only does this allow you to digest and curate the information you’re sharing, it also reinforces what you just learned.

9. Share skills and level up!

Take the opportunity to share your knowledge and skill set with industry peers. Offering help or assistance with fellow conference attendees is an easy and effective way to create a meaningful connection. This often leads to getting reciprocal help as well! Don’t be afraid to ask for help on something that you’ve been struggling with and lean on the vast breadth of knowledge and experience of industry colleagues.

Another opportunity to take advantage of is completing certifications and training courses offered at events. These are great ways to broaden your knowledge on a topic and walk away with newly-minted certifications that bolster your skillset and help you market yourself professionally.

10. Leave with three things to try immediately

Conferences spur inspiration! Don’t let the magic and euphoria of conference highs wear off when you get back to the office. Aim to jot down three actionable ideas that you can implement easily and quickly within your organization that don’t require long-winded processes and could truly make an impact.

The ICE (impact, confidence, ease) method is a great way to account for all the things you want to try to implement while prioritizing the things that will make the biggest and immediate difference. Not all ideas will pan out, but testing new ideas or strategies coming off of a conference helps ensure your notes don’t collect dust and become useless.

Enjoy the Perks

11. Take in the scenery

Do yourself a favor. Go outside and explore the local city where the event is located.

With many conferences spanning multiple days with jam-packed agendas, it’s important to keep yourself balanced and make time to decompress and take a load off. Find opportunities to grab a friend, explore the city, take some photos, and enjoy the scenery outside the conference floor.

Pro tip: If you can swing it, plan an extra day at the front or tail end of a conference. This gives you time to prepare and get in the conference mindset or to relax, recap, and decompress at the end of an event. Plus, you won’t feel guilty missing sessions or content to do your own thing!

After the Event

12. Remember the experience

As your conference is wrapping up, think on the most meaningful things you learned and people you met during the event. Take time to recover from the event and recap your experience in a journal; that way, it’s easy to remember your big takeaways months or even years later.

13. Stay in touch

A network isn’t built at one event alone. Even if you’re not a regular at industry conferences, you can nurture your connections with your peers on social or Slack, at local events, or even through impromptu coffee meetings.

Remember to follow up with people you met and do what you can to be a resource for others.

14. Present to your team

Finally, share what you learned whenever you have the opportunity. Internal lunch and learns can be a great way not only to educate and get buy-in from your coworkers on best practices and optimization opportunities, but they also prove the value of your attendance at a conference.

If you’d like to expand your skillset or your network, please join us at the Email Evolution Conference in Savannah, Georgia from April 24-26. We’d love to see you there!

Kait Creamer | Email Marketing Manager, Scaled Agile | Vice-Chair, EEC Events and Education Subcommittee

Anthony Chiulli | Director of Product Marketing, 250ok | Chair, EEC Events and Education Subcommittee