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Getting the Most From Association Conferences: an Attendee’s Perspective

Aug 1, 2017

By Stephen Brand, Executive Director of Global Learning and Development at Bay Path University

During the past Spring, I attended six conferences back-to-back. What an experience! Those months were both exhilarating and exhausting—but extremely valuable. That’s because I went to each event with a plan. You’ve really got to think ahead, especially considering that the investment in attending, both in dollars and days away from the office, can be tremendous. You’ve got to come to a conference with a strategy in place, otherwise money, time, and precious opportunities for growth will be lost.

Here are my top ten recommendations for increasing the impact of each and every association conference you attend.

1. Start the conversation before you leave your office. Who should you meet? What sessions will you attend? What exhibitors should you see? Don’t wait until you get there to start the conversations. Book coffee, book lunch, or just plan to get together for ten minutes for a quick chat. Always connect before you leave your office.

2. Commit to getting ideas that generate revenue or savings equaling at least three times the cost of attendance. This ensures that you’re getting value from your investment—and that you can justify that investment to your organization. In fact, when I was a CEO I made this a requirement for my team to justify even going.

3. Leverage your investment by sharing what you learned with your supervisors, direct reports, and peers. You might even pull together a local group of interested people with whom you could share your learning outcomes. This way you can be seen as a thought leader in your community.

4. Let your business cards be reminders. Bring business cards of a thick stock that have enough blank space to be written on. When people meet you, have them write why they want to stay connected with you. I just hate when I pull out a card from the past and have no idea who the person is!

5. Ask provoking questions in sessions. Dig deep. It’s amazing how many people will come up to you afterwards to connect with you and “pick your brain.”

6. Don’t drink too much. Conferences are about learning, connecting, and increasing your value as a professional. Networking when you are tipsy will just cement a poor image of you in the minds of others.

7. Remember, conference connections could turn into future jobs. Whether it’s one year, two years, or even ten years down the road, the connections you make at a conference could become your boss, coworker, or employee. Keep in touch! And while you’re at the event, consider who impresses you, or who you would just love to work for.

8. Introduce yourself to the keynote speakers…and send them a note immediately after the conference. You never know when a carefully placed call with a question or request will come in handy in the future.

9. Be open to surprises and new experiences. Even if you go to a conference with a clearly stated set of objectives, always be open to surprises and learning outcomes you never could have predicted.

10. And last but not least, follow the rule of 72. Take three actions within 72 hours inspired by what you learned. Otherwise, the value of the investment will disappear!

Dr. Stephen Brand is the Executive Director of Global Learning and Development at Bay Path University. He is responsible for building the faculty and curriculum in a new corporate learning division at Bay Path University. His expertise is in new venture creation, leadership development, and customer engagement. He also travels around the world teaching emerging entrepreneurs and has taught at Babson College, Olin College of Engineering and Case Western Reserve University. He has worked at companies like Ford Motor Company, U.S. Olympic Committee, and was the opening President of the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

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