Five Tips to Attend a Conference Like a Pro

Two of my worlds will be at conferences next week.

The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) is holding their International Conference and Exposition in Washington, DC May 4 - 7. ICMI's Contact Center Expo & Conference will be in San Diego May 6 - 9.

Attending a conference can be an overwhelming experience. Four years ago, I wrote a post outlining five steps to attending a conference. My favorite? Step 1: set goals so you can focus on finding what you're looking for.

Here are five new tips to help you maximize your experience.


Tip 1: Set goals

Ok, this is a repeat from my last list. It's just that it's the best way to maximize your experience.

  • What problems can attending this conference help you solve?
  • What speakers or attendees do you want to meet?
  • What would make this conference easy to justify to your boss?

Failing to set goals for a conference is like going to a buffet and filling up on bread because it was the first thing you saw and there was lots of it. Save room in your brain and your schedule for desert. 


Tip 2: Follow on Twitter

Most conferences have a hashtag that allows you to tune in on Twitter. This has become the town square for conference attendees. People talk about their favorite sessions, share resources, and exchange ideas.

Twitter is also a great way to stay awake during information-rich, interaction-poor PowerPoint dump sessions. 

Here are the hashtags for the ASTD & ICMI Conferences:

Check out the hashtag stream for #astd2014.

Tip 3: Split Up

Attending a conference with a co-worker attached to your side can be stifling. Sure, there's safety in numbers, but now is not the time to spend even more time with someone you spend enough time with as it is.

Split up and do your own thing. Here's why:

  • You can attend more sessions if you divide and conquer.
  • It's easier to make new connections if you aren't all huddled together.
  • You spend too much time together as it is. 


Tip 4: Make Real Connections

There are two ways to network at a conference.

The wrong way is to swap business cards with everyone you meet and then never talk to those people again. This is what most people do. 

A much better approach is to make meaningful connections with people who can actually help you (and vice-versa). Here are a few people to look for:

  • People who have already solved a problem you're trying to solve.
  • Vendors who are selling a solution you actually need.
  • People in similar situations who are willing to benchmark.

The key to making this thing work is you must follow-up after the conference. Reach out via LinkedIn. Send them an email. Make a phone call. Whatever you do, continue the conversation.


Tip 5: Fewer Sessions, More Conversation

The best conferences I've ever attended all have one thing in common: conversation.

Conference sessions can be great. I highly recommend attending a few. Just give yourself permission to skip a session or two in favor of a meaningful conversation with someone you meet at the conference.

I almost always gain far more from talking to an expert one-on-one about a real world challenge than I do trying to keep up with a presenter monotonously droning through 150 densely packed slides in an hour. 


Connect with Me at ICMI!

The logistics of my two favorite conferences forced me to choose one over the other. That means I'll be at the Contact Center Expo & Conference in my hometown of San Diego.

Here's how to find me if you'll be there too:

Tuesday, May 6

  • 8:30am - 12:00pm: Pre-conference workshop: High Performance Management 

Wednesday, May 7

  • 11:00am - 11:30am: Thought Leader Panel (Expo Hall): Voice of the Customer
  • 11:30am - 12:00pm: Thought Leader Panel (Expo Hall): Online Chat
  • 5:30pm - 6:00pm: Thought Leader Panel (Expo Hall): Training

Thursday, May 8:

  • 12:00pm - 12:30pm: Thought Leader Panel (Expo Hall): Social
  • 1:30pm - 2:00pm: Thought Leader Panel (Expo Hall): Multichannel
  • 2:30pm - 3:45pm: Incentive Programs That Drive Performance (Panel Moderator)