Nina Spencer

Back-to-School and Back-to-Professional Conferences:

How to get the best bang for your conference buck

Here it comes...almost back-to-school time once again, and time for something else, too! The professional conference season--autumn meetings and beyond--is almost upon us, as well. Attending such events offer up such a deluge of information that, as one colleague expresses, "It feels like you've just drunk from a fire hose!" So, to get the biggest "bang for your conference buck", here are a collection of tips for integrating all that fabulous 2008/2009 conference learning and experience:

1. As soon after the conference as possible--even while still at the event, e.g. while in your hotel room or while enroute home (if travelling by plane, train, but not automobile--not if you're the one driving, that is!) block 1-2 hours for amalgamation and condensing of all your newly acquired information. How? Well, firstly, whether you took paper or electronic notes, retrieve and review. Practice the, "Law of 72"--not 1972!--the idea that that which you review and begin to implement within 72 hours (from exposure or suggestion) is much more likely to come to pass. Secondly, flash back to all those intervals in-between the formal keynotes and concurrent/breakout sessions, e. g. the informal or formal networking opportunities, the luncheon(s) and dinner(s) and even the scheduled or stolen free time. What did you observe (about yourself and others) during these in-between moments? Whom did you meet? At the corresponding trade-fair/exhibits 9if any), at which vendors' booths did you visit/stop for a chat? What interesting and spontaneous conversations did you stoke or partake? What did you learn from those exchanges? Did any interesting moments of serendipity occur/small world stories?

2. Gather all business cards you collected. From that bunch, determine with whom you really want to reconnect after the conference; make a tentative plan or note to follow up within the first 14 days after the event. With whom, from that bunch of cards/people, could you see yourself partnering, learning, or perhaps receiving mentorship; on the other hand, with whom would you like to offer mentorship? Reflect on why you exchanged cards with each person in the first place. Did you initiate the exchange or did they? What was the spark for you, or what do you think the spark was for the other to initiate the exchange of cards? Try to recall the conversation leading up to the exchange to help you realize your answer. And, although this is now somewhat of an age-old suggestion, as soon after the exchange as possible, write on the received card all the particulars that pertain to that individual, eg. physical attributes, distinguishing features, anecdotal info they may have shared, turn of phrase they may have used, children, pets, places travelled, anything unusual or quirky they may have shared. Quickly jotting down all this data will free your poor brain from having to recall all this information on its own and help you anchor your recollection of the individual if/when next you meet or chat.

3. Identify your 3 best or favourite "take-aways". Commit to implementing each take-away as soon as possible once you're back to work. If any of the take-aways require planning or extra effort to implement, chunk down the inspired ideas into manageable tasks, using realistic yet optimistic timelines for ultimate roll-out.


4. Plan a meeting with a professional colleague, business coach, the person to who you report, etc., and discuss/share
your three favourite take-aways, along with your vision for implementation. Ask for accountability and feedback support you suspect will be required to see these ideas manifest.

5. Prioritize the implementation of each of your favourite conference ideas based on your own business strategy, vision and goals. Keep your prioritized list handy, e.g. on a white board or cork board, under your desk blotter, in your briefcase and/or, of course, stored somewhere easily accessible and frequently reviewed on your computer. Refer to your list often, checking off each conference-inspired item as you complete.


6. Share key learnings with your work team and other professional colleagues
(both within your organization and beyond). This is a terrific way to reinforce your personal commitment and vision to implementing your beast take-aways, offers the receiver of your sharing a chance to learn something new/new food for thought for their own professional growth, and even further extends the 'bang" for your conference buck.