I have a love/hate relationship with conferences and meetings. Not for the reasons some people do. I pretty much enjoy any and all educational opportunities, and a productive meeting energizes me in a weird “stick-me-in-a-board-room-all-day-and-I’m-super-happy” kind of way. But when I wrap up a multi-day event and don’t have anything to show for it, my elation takes a pretty steep nose-dive, and I end up vowing I’ll never sign up for another conference again.

Regardless of how you feel about conference-type events, if you are one of those attendees, a little intentionality can help ensure your time is not wasted, even when you cannot control the content or outcomes of the agenda.

Be Intentional in Purpose

Whether it was your choice to attend a particular conference or meeting or not, always start by asking yourself “Why?” There’s a cost to travel. Time away from family, work, and often even our own self-care routines, can make attending events more of a burden than a blessing. Why are you sacrificing time doing other things to attend? Get beyond the “because I have to” mentality and ask “What’s the one thing that I need to happen that would make this event worth the sacrifice?”

You might be surprised that it doesn’t always have to be the main purpose of the event. I once attended a conference that was made 100% worthwhile because of an opportunity to have a meal with someone I had not seen in years. The renewal of that relationship was worth the time and money spent on the whole event.

Be Intentional in Planning

A few weeks before your conference or meeting, review the agenda. It doesn’t take that long to find your margins and down time. And if there aren’t enough breaks planned for your personal taste, decide in advance what you will skip or audit to better keep you physically and mentally energized.

Does your hotel have a fitness center, pool or hot tub? Are there local attractions that have been on your bucket list? Can you schedule travel arrangements to take advantage of opportunities other than the event itself?

Be Intentional in Preparing

Understand the content for your event and decide if there is anything you need to learn, to read, or contextualize before you get there. If you’re attending a seminar on time management, for example, review your own schedule and find the areas where you most need tips to improve. Ask yourself what it is you have been struggling with the most recently. In what area could you use some fresh ideas?

If your conference has a theme, try to understand why that theme was chosen. What trend is the conference attempting to address? Determine your hoped-for takeaways before you even arrive.

If possible, review the list of potential attendees. Know who you might bump into. To enhance your networking conversations, and at the risk of sounding a little stalker-ish, review their social media pages and find out on what projects they are working or maybe a little something about what’s going on in their lives.

Be Intentional with People

A favorite tip for attending events is to consider who might be a valuable connection to make–not your client or supplier-type appointments, but role models or leaders in your field.  Reach out to them in advance and set a time to meet. Because you took the time to review the meeting schedule, you know when your free-time will be. Social encounters at an event can turn into a valuable future personal and business contacts, not to mention the personal growth opportunity you won’t be missing.

Once you have one or two key meet-ups planned, consider what questions you would like to cover. I like to find people who are further along in their career leadership than I and craft questions about their career progression, key achievements, books they are currently reading, tips on life balance, etc. Be ready with projects on which you are currently working, as others may have some input that could be invaluable to you.

My favorite question (borrowed from a mentor) is “Who do you know that I should know?” This generates your intentional contact list for future events. And finally, always ask your contacts how you might add value to them in the future. This statement alone leaves the conversation open ended and provides a door through which ongoing dialogue can occur.

Being intentional when it comes to conference and meeting attendance can often pay higher dividends than just letting the conference happen to you. It puts you in control of the value you receive from the event and insures against a wasted opportunity.

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