Attending a conference can be a little overwhelming. With so many sessions to attend, it can be hard to know where to direct your energy. Fortunately, pre-conference preparation can help alleviate stress and make sure you achieve your conference goals. For instance, if you’re attending your association’s conference, take time upfront to familiarize yourself with what to expect in order to make the most of your experience.
Follow these tried-and-true tips to prepare for a conference in a way that makes good use of your time and energy.
1. Enter the Conference with a Goal and Purpose.
Odds are you’re attending this conference for a reason—to network, discover more about a specific product or service, or simply to learn something new. Use your reason to guide your conference approach so you can accomplish your goal. Before attending the conference, ask yourself:
- What do I want to learn about? This could be something specific, like automation software, or more general strategies for community engagement or management.
- Who do I want to meet? Conferences provide excellent networking opportunities, so have expectations in place for building valuable connections there.
- Are there any particular sessions I want to attend? Take a look at the conference agenda and prioritize the sessions you’re definitely interested in attending.
- Do I have another reason for attending? Identify whether you have another goal you’d like to accomplish at the conference.
Be as specific as possible when you set your goals. Say your goal is to look into document management solutions. Do you just want to learn about new software in general, or is there a particular kind of software that meets your organization’s needs? Specificity will ensure you’re set up for success when the conference begins.
2. Identify Who You Want to Meet.
Whether or not your goals include networking, it’s always a good idea to identify potential connections in advance. When you think about who you want to meet, consider whether you’re looking for:
- A specific individual
- People in a certain role or with a certain organization
- A certain number of new people
- Someone you can connect with on a certain topic
Member directories for association conferences can be invaluable to navigating this tricky field of networking, informing you about potential attendees and perhaps even how best to get in touch.
3. Review Event Details in Advance.
Ensure that you have a smooth and productive conference experience by informing yourself on important event details. Any marketing communications you have received about the conference should provide the basic need-to-knows for attending. Here are some additional tips for ensuring you can navigate the conference with ease:
- Look up the venues. For an in-person conference, you should know not only where the conference is being held, but also where specific talks, displays, or events are taking place.
- Investigate what’s around the venues. Knowing what restaurants, cafés, and bars are near the venue can tell you where conference goers might congregate after events. You’ll also have a variety of locations to suggest in case you and a colleague want to continue a conversation over a meal or a drink.
- Familiarize yourself with conference schedules. This goes for in-person, virtual, and hybrid events. Knowing which panels, presentations, and events you want to attend can help you determine your timing and movement through the conference.
- Download relevant materials before the event. This might include maps for an in-person event or conference apps for a virtual or hybrid conference. When preparing for an association conference, knowing how to navigate the apps in advance can help you make sure you’re ready to go on the day.
4. Prepare to Participate.
Participating may seem straightforward. You’re there to represent your organization—you know your role in and out. But if the conference is virtual or hybrid, you’ll want to prepare to make the most of your online experience, especially if the event provides mostly paperless resources. Here are some things to think about when planning your conference participation:
- Prepare conversation topics in advance. Bringing general and topical knowledge of your industry can help the conversation flow. Ask open-ended questions to help you gain insight into your colleagues’ points of view. You might end up sharing a revelation neither of you expected!
- Know how to introduce yourself. You know who you want to speak to and why—but why should others speak to you? Make sure you know how to represent yourself and your organization clearly and succinctly.
- Engage on social media and member forums before, during, and after events. Include specifics about who you are to facilitate productive exchanges! Don’t forget to use event hashtags—browsing these and replying to fellow conference goers can create memorable exchanges.
- Familiarize yourself with chat functions during virtual events. Chatting with attendees during virtual event streams on Facebook Live, Twitch, and YouTube can be a great way to connect.
5. Learn how Conferences are Planned.
Organizers know better than anyone that a productive and enriching attendee experience is what makes or breaks a conference. Many organizers have put together conferences before, and they may even incorporate previous attendee feedback to ensure attendees are getting the most out of the event.
Like you, organizers have set goals for the event and identified their target audience. They’ve also researched the venue and speakers to make sure they’re the right fit for the conference. Other essentials for conference planning include branding and promotion that align with organizers’ goals and audience, and possibly even a conference theme!
There may be a lot to learn about a conference just by finding out how it was put together. Having a thorough understanding of what went into a conference’s planning can go a long way toward helping you navigate the event.
Preparing for your conference—and finding your place within it—can be as simple as familiarizing yourself with it. Ask yourself why you are attending this conference, along with who you’re there to talk to, what you’re there to learn about, and which sessions interest you.
By making sure you enter the conference prepared, you can rest assured you’re making the best of your time—and helping to make this event a fantastic experience for everyone. Enjoy the conference!
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