how to get the most out of your next conference

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There are a variety of local, national and even international conferences HR practiconers can choose to attend every year. Whether it’s HR Tech, SHRM or ATD (Association for Talent Development, formerly ASTD), there are plenty of opportunities to bolster your professional experience by participating in the conference that’s right for you.

But how do you decide which conference is right for you? Of course cost, timing and location are key factors in determining if you can attend a conference. Once you’ve addressed those factors, look carefully at the conference agenda as well as the list of presenters and vendors who will be attending. A conference should offer you the opportunity to better meet your short and long-term professional goals:

–   Look for sessions that relate to challenges you’re facing in your current role, and those you might face in the future.

–   Confirm if there are presenters whose insights will help you contribute value to your organization.

–   Identify vendors who provide a product or service your organization needs.

–   Consider the potential to connect with colleagues from your network who might also be attending.

Once you’ve decided to attend be sure you get the most out of the conference while you’re there:

Focus on the conference. It’s difficult to fully participate in a conference if you’re worried about everything you have to do back at work when the conference is over. If possible, wrap up any critical tasks before you leave and delegate necessary follow-up to a trusted colleague. Set your email out-of-office notification before you leave. Once you’re at the conference, allow yourself to check e-mail and voicemail once or twice a day.

Fully engage in presentations. When a presentation begins, remove distractions by turning off your smart phone and focusing your mind on the information being shared. It’s difficult to get everything you can out of a presentation if you’re not fully present. If appropriate, ask questions. Volunteer to share an example from your own experience if a presenter asks for audience input. This not only helps engage your interest, it also helps engage the interest of other participants. 

Maintain your network. Before the conference, reach out to your network of colleagues to find out who else might be attending. Set up time to connect with them during the conference.

Step outside your comfort zone. Sit with people you don’t know during lunch. During the break between sessions, strike up a conversation with a thought-leader. These connections will be valuable in the moment and they might evolve into long-lasting business connections. But they don’t happen unless you’re willing talk to people you don’t already know. 

Have some fun. If your schedule allows, plan for some fun while you’re at a conference. Maybe there’s a local attraction you’ve always wanted to visit, or a show or sporting event you can attend. Taking a few hours away from the conference scene can help you rejuvenate for the remainder of the conference.

Share what you learn. Once you’re back at the office, share what you’ve learned with your team. This helps refresh relevant content in your mind and inspires new thoughts and ideas for your colleagues, too.

If you’re planning to attend an HR-related conference, chances are we’ll be there, too. Be sure to introduce yourself – we’d love to connect!

By liz sheffield
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