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How Toosday: 10 ways to get the most out of a conference

Estimated read time: 9 minutes

As we’ve already noted here on The Native recently, it’s getting to the time of year when we’re suddenly spoiled for choice when it comes to conferences and events about marketing, digital and other good stuff.

If you’re lucky enough to be heading to one/some, you want to be sure that you really get the most out it – as well as ensuring the biggest bang for your budget holder’s buck.

I’m lucky enough to have attended plenty of conferences over the past few years, as a delegate, speaker and co-chair, so can offer plenty of advice on how to get as much value as possible from such events.

What follows is said advice – enjoy!

Check out our list of four awesome marketing conferences you should definitely try and attend this year.

Be prepared and engage early

Most events these days have a hashtag, but you don’t have to wait until the conference starts before you use it. Get posting to that tag ahead of time, find fellow delegates and start working out who you’d like to meet in real life. Track down any speakers and start following them too – or at least add them to a list. This way, you’ll get a far better understanding of what they’re about, which will also help you think of some great questions to ask them.

Engage during the conference as well

It goes without saying to use the hashtag while you’re there too. Doing so will allow you to share your learning with your followers – which is a rather nice thing to do. It will help when you come to review your notes post-conference to look back at what you tweeted and the poor folk who have spent hours pulling this event together and trying to market it will love you forever.

Take good notes

Another pretty obvious one, but good note taking is an essential skill for any conference attendee worth their salt. That doesn’t mean trying to transcribe every presentation word-for-word, and it doesn’t mean being *that* person who photographs every slide on their tablet. Listen to what the speaker is saying and pull out the key quotes and soundbites. Also, write them down with an actual pen on actual paper. Seriously, it will makes things stick far better than doing so digitally and you won’t get distracted by notifications from things like social media and emails.

Speaking of emails…

Leave work at work

If you’re physically at a conference, but mentally back at the office because you can’t tear yourself away from your emails, then there’s really no point in you being there. Your boss should have just sent Jennifer instead of you because at least she damned well pays attention and learns something. Put your out-of-office on and worry about your inbox when you’re back at work…or, if you have to, promise to only sneak a peek during coffee breaks.

Leave your co-workers too

If Jennifer or any other of your co-workers are attending the conference with you, that’s great, but don’t spend all your time with them. You’ve got the every other day you’re both still working for the same organisation to do that.

Instead, divvy up the agenda between yourselves, go to different sessions and then swap notes afterwards. It will force you to pay attention and take good notes during the sessions you attend, safe in the knowledge that Jennifer is in the parallel session returning the favour. Doing this also means your notes have to make sense – after all, you’ve got to get across the key points to someone who wasn’t there to see it for themselves.

Leave your comfort zone

I’ll level with you. I am a massive introvert. At conferences, I love being in sessions, sat listening to a speaker and taking notes, but the prospect of a ‘networking refreshment break’ fills me with dread. I want nothing more than to grab a tea, grab a biscuit, grab my phone from my pocket and pretend like I’m checking my work email when I’m actually scrolling through memes.

But, I don’t do this. I extrovert. I talk to people. I swap contact details, I shake hands, I smile, and I contribute. And, do you know what? It’s way better. Yep, it means I often need a bit of downtime later in the day once the sessions are over, but if I hadn’t put myself out of my natural comfort zone, then I would have missed out on meeting some of my absolute best contacts. Push yourself, you can do it!

Bring chargers

An obvious one – you wouldn’t want to run out of juice, would you?

Scribble on business cards

Usually the phrase ‘ninja tip’ would make me want to put my head through the nearest wall, but I do have something that almost counts as one; when you get given a business card by someone you meet at a conference, jot down something you spoke about, with that person, on the back of their card. It could be the topic they just presented about, the project you got chatting about over coffee or, like I experienced at a conference once, the fact that the person I was chin-wagging with used to be in a cape-wearing power metal band. Not only will it help jog your memory of who that person is, but it will also make you seem like you have the memory to rival an elephant when you follow up with them post-event.

On that note…

Follow up within a week

Don’t leave it too long to follow up with your new contacts – I tend to get onto LinkedIn on my first day back in the office and send out some new connection requests. And, using the notes you handily scribbled on their business cards, you can really personalise your requests.

Blog or present to your colleagues about the event afterwards

This is, without a doubt, one of my favourite things to do after a conference and is a great way to solidify what you learned at the event; write up your experience at the event as a blog post. It doesn’t even have to be continuous prose – I tend to turn my posts into lists of points or quotes summarised as a single sentence. Not only is it good for self-reflection on what you’ve learned, it’s something you can share with your colleagues who weren’t as fortunate enough as you to attend.

Even better, why not throw some slides together and present what you learned to your colleagues once you’re back in the office?

Hope that helps – see you in a networking refreshment break soon!

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