Hundreds of conferences are scheduled every year covering a variety of topics. If you’ve decided to attend a conference this year, then you need to be prepared to make the most of it. We'll use an example from our friends at Intuit QuickBase, EMPOWER2015, the inaugural QuickBase user event in Chicago, IL May 26-28.
Your preparation should begin before you go with three key priorities in mind.
1. Grow Your Knowledge
Conferences are all about learning something new about a tool or approach you can use and apply in your company, so you definitely want to plan to get the best bang for your buck. Start by setting a personal goal for your attendance. What would you like to be the one primary outcome you’ll walk away with at the end of the conference?
Next, take a good look at the conference agenda. Make a quick list of all the sessions that appeal to you. Then sort through them and prioritize based on your personal goal for the conference. Sessions often fill up quickly, so have an alternate choice ready in case you encounter this issue during the conference.
Select a variety of sessions with different formats as each will have its own unique take away. As an example, at this year’s Intuit QuickBase customer event, the EMPOWER 2015 conference, there is a broad range of topics in three key categories.
Special panel sessions and keynotes will also help you gain a better understanding of the challenges similar companies are facing and how they're being addressed. Whether you're setting the strategy or looking to deliver innovative ways to contribute to it, these sessions are excellent to raise your own profile within your company and help grow your business. Examples at EMPOWER 2015 include "CIO Panel: App Strategies for IT Leaders," "Best Practices for Rapid Application Development," the "SMB Panel" and more.
If you’re attending with other team members from your company, get together before the conference so you can “divide and conquer.” It doesn’t make any sense for every team member to attend the same session. You’ll get much more out of the experience if you can acquire broader information into a topic by leveraging each person’s time. Have a plan for how you’ll take notes so they can be aggregated once you’re back at the office.
During the conference sessions, be an active participant. If there’s an opportunity to share a story or ask a question, make sure you speak up and add your voice. Although most conferences these days encourage live tweeting, it’s not easy to do and stay focused on the content of the session so you might want to keep it to a minimum and take advantage of social sharing and networking between sessions. Tip: jot down a few easily digestible takeaways to share with your network and share later. Being first isn't always "best."
2. Grow Your Network
The absolute best part about attending a conference in person is being able to connect with other people who have similar interests.
One of the best ways to do that is to make sure you take full advantage of planned in-venue and digital social activities. For example, the EMPOWER 2015 conference has a Kick Off Party and Reception the night before it actually starts. It’s worthwhile to arrive early enough to attend those type of events for two reasons – 1) You get to make a bunch of strangers your new friends, and 2) Attending conference sessions with people you’ve already met will make it a much richer experience for you.
You might be tempted to spend “off time” during the conference in your hotel room or tucked away in some corner reading and responding to email, but that would be a big mistake. Some of the best learning and networking connections take place during chance encounters. You don’t know what you don’t know. An impromptu conversation just may spark an idea for you. Remaining engaged in the conference during the down time may just make the difference between a good and a spectacular experience.
It’s also a good time to seek out any speakers you have a particular interest in meeting. You might have a specific interest in QuickBase Add Ons so seeking out Keith Jusas from Juiced Technologies might be a focus for you. Or perhaps you’ve struggled with getting employees to work together and the talk from Paul Katz of PartyLite North America piques your interest. Or maybe you just want to hear more of the behind the scenes stuff from Sarah Clark of Gateway about how they’ve saved 80 hours per year reporting on QuickBase.
Also, don't forget all the customers who were unable to make the event. They will be following the conference hashtag #EMPOWER2015 and you could essentially extend your reach of like minded individuals 10 fold by sharing and connecting with those following the event from afar. Make the social events part of your goal for the conference and you’ll come away much more satisfied with the experience.
3. Bring It Back
Taking what you learned back to the office and sharing it with your team is where the real magic happens. If you attended the conference with co-workers, plan on getting together to do a debrief and information consolidation for sharing with your team. Check out the conference hash tag feed (#EMPOWER2015) on Twitter, but also on Facebook and Google+ for any other goodies you might have missed. Then put an action plan together on those things that would be worthwhile to investigate further or implement in your company.
And don’t forget to take those new networking contacts you made to the next level. Follow up by connecting on LinkedIn or Twitter to continue the conversation. There may even be a Private List on Twitter of attendees who have shared their Twitter handles. Be sure to ask the event's social team for a link to it.
Are you planning to attend EMPOWER 2015? Time is running out! This is a rare opportunity to get first-hand knowledge and insights from QuickBase experts. So register for EMPOWER 2015 today!