Interested in the chance to learn from industry experts? Advance your professional development? And maybe even explore a new city and enjoy local cuisine? Many employees jump at opportunities to attend conferences and workshops to further their own learning and expand their professional network. But how can you ensure that you and your colleagues (or clients) are making the most of these valuable experiences?
Jackson Spalding recently supported Primrose Schools at the 2017 World Forum – an international early care and education conference held in Auckland, New Zealand. With this experience fresh in our minds, here are five tips for how you can make the most of your next conference:
- Prioritize relationship building. While presentations from notable guest speakers and roundtable discussions with industry leaders often occupy the majority of conference time, it’s important not to overlook the networking opportunities sandwiched in between. Consider contacting the conference organizer in advance to secure a list of attendees. Then, proactively reach out in advance to those you’re most interested in meeting. We did this for Primrose so they could maximize relationship-building time with respected authors and organization leaders who we researched ahead of time. From new business leads to potential partnerships, you never know what might come from a quick networking breakfast or mid-afternoon cup of coffee.
- Maximize your company’s visibility. If one of your goals for attending a conference is to position your brand as a thought leader in the industry (it should be!), go the extra mile to make sure your company is top of mind during the event. Beyond sponsorship opportunities, identify other ways to promote yourself and your brand – like offering to moderate a panel discussion. At the World Forum, Primrose provided complimentary copies of “The Toddler Brain,” by Laura Jana , strategically garnered with Primrose branding. Even something as simple as introducing yourself and asking a thoughtful question during the Q&A portion of a presentation can go a long way in further solidifying the reputation of your company.
- Practice your elevator speech. This advice may sound simple, but it’s not uncommon for seasoned business pros to get tongue-tied when answering simple questions like, “What does your company do?” or “What is your role?” Ensure you’re prepared for chance meetings in the hotel lobby or a brief chat in the taxi line by making sure you know your 30-second introductory spiel in advance. How might you tailor it depending on the event you’re attending or the person you’re speaking with?
- Do your homework before you go. Another no-brainer, right? But in the flurry of last-minute travel preparations and project hand-offs before leaving the office, sometimes studying up for a conference might slip lower on the priority list. Always make sure you and your colleagues are up to date on the latest industry news, trends and company updates so you can confidently respond to questions that may come up in group discussions or casual conversations. As an example, when Jackson Spalding prepared a briefing kit for Primrose in advance of the World Forum, we included a list of possible tough topics that attendees might be asked about, like the state of education in the U.S. If traveling abroad, you may also want to research the culture of the host country. The plane ride or downtime in your hotel room might be the perfect time for this.
- Don’t leave your key learnings at the farewell luncheon. Once you’re back at your desk and catching up on a bottomless inbox of unread emails, it’s easy to tuck your conference notes away in a drawer and forget about them. But if you want to reinforce why this professional development experience was important – and demonstrate to your employer what additional value you can now add – it’s important to share your key learnings with others on your team. Consider blogging about your experience for internal and external education, or hosting a “Lunch and Learn” session with your coworkers to discuss new insights.
Wherever your next conference or workshop may lead you, keep this advice in mind so you can maximize your experience.