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No matter what industry you are in, everyone can benefit from attending a professional conference. These large, multi-day gatherings are perfect opportunities to attend some seminars, learn a thing or two about where your industry is headed, and perhaps most importantly, network with others in your space.
However, if you’re new to attending industry conferences, you may not know how to make the best use of the limited time you have at a conference. The truth is, not everyone walks away from a conference having seized the same opportunities as someone who came in with a game plan. That’s why in this article you’ll find five ways to make the most of the marketing, networking, and personal and professional development opportunities that a professional conference offers you.
1. Make a plan
The first step you want to take is to make a plan for yourself well before the conference even starts. There is no doubt that a week-long conference in a huge hotel can seem quite confusing and intimidating. After all, how do you know where to go, which seminars to attend, who to talk to, and where to meet people during the hustle and bustle of a conference?
This is where planning will save you. Take some time in advance to study the conference program, participate in pre-conference discussions online, and learn about speakers and other attendees you may want to network with. Planning this way will save you a lot of time in the long run.
2. Attend networking events and after-hours mixers
This tip is all about the networking part of professional conferences, perhaps one of the most important parts. Conferences that last several days often have some sort of social mixers or meet-and-greets for attendees in the evenings. These are excellent opportunities to get yourself out there and network with others in your industry.
Be sure to bring your business cards to hand out or, if you’re an author, give away some free copies of your book. That book can serve as a business card at professional events such as these mixers. A signed book – in the hands of potential clients, employees or influencers you want to work with – is light years ahead of just another business card that many people would probably lose or forget anyway. A book means people will remember you.
Even if you don’t have a book to hand out, these after-hours network mixers are a perfect way to while away some time at your next conference.
Related: How networking is necessary for effective entrepreneurship
3. Walk through the corridors
The third tip to remember to get the most out of a conference is to walk the hallways outside of the seminar rooms. The seminars and Q&As all have their place in a conference, but they have a structure that must be followed according to decorum. You sit down respectfully and hear what the speakers say.
However, in the hallways you will meet people by surprise, have ad-libed conversations, do business and set up collaborations for the future. It can seem like a challenge to plan something like this for yourself. After all, meeting with other people present in the corridors seems to be based on chance. In fact, there are things you can do to guide yourself into some existing hallway meetings, from following the hashtags or social posts of certain participants to observing what others are doing outside of the seminar time slots.
At professional conferences, it pays to keep in mind that learning happens in the seminar rooms, but magic happens in the hallways.
Related: How my goal of meeting 2 new people a day completely changed my life
4. Attend workshops and seminars
You should definitely take the time to attend the workshops and seminars offered at your conference, and there is a two-pronged strategy you can adopt here. On the one hand, you should attend seminars on topics you are unfamiliar with but want to become more familiar with. Instead, make time to attend seminars on topics you already teach or practice yourself.
The reason is that other people in your industry may have different life experiences that give them a perspective on your topic that you’ve never considered before. Perhaps these speakers are saying something more clearly or concisely than you ever have. Their unique insights can unleash something in you and inspire you to teach your subject in their own way from now on.
This isn’t about stealing someone’s style. It’s about seeing if another member of your own industry can say something that brings a nugget of wisdom from your unconscious knowledge base to your conscious mind. That way you can start using it actively and become more competitive.
Related: The best entrepreneurs are experts in self-improvement. Here’s how to master that skill.
5. Be flexible
Finally, you want to be flexible with your schedule at these conferences. As mentioned, you need to make a plan for attending your conference, but at the same time, you want to be open to the fact that schedules can change at any time. You may not make it to a seminar you planned to attend, whether it was for a run-of-the-mill snafu or the fact that you had such a long and engaging conversation with someone you met in the hallway that you missed the time slot.
Fine! It’s better to go with the flow anyway, because that’s often how the best personal connections are formed.
Conferences can boost your personal and professional growth
Whether you’re an industry veteran or just getting into gaming, conferences in your market niche can be a huge boon to your personal and professional development. From expert seminars to impromptu hallway networking, conferences can be the key to unlocking a new level of growth for you. Make sure you get the most out of your next.