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How to get the most out of a conference

Attending conferences can be a great move for you career. But if you’re simply turning up to listen, you could be missing out on a huge opportunity.

Follow these easy steps to make the most out of the next event you attend at one of the great conference centres in Victoria, and see how your career flourishes:

Ask yourself – what do you want out of this?

When you are invited to attend a conference you might send your RSVP and then not really give it much more thought until the day. What you should really be doing though, is taking this opportunity to think about your career and where you are going with it. Make some time to write down your professional goals (or look them over if you already have some), and see if attending this conference is a way of helping you achieve any of those goals. You’d be surprised at the many ways it might push you in the right direction. For example, the networking alone could end up achieving a goal of finding a mentor, or a new job or some new clients. Or perhaps you might get the knowledge or even just the enthusiasm that will lead to you developing new skills or acquiring new tools to help you get promoted. Go into the conference with the intention of achieving some of your professional goals and you will be amazed at how much more you walk away with.

Plan ahead

Conferences will often have various panels, talks and workshops scheduled over the course of the event. This can be quite overwhelming and if you haven’t planned ahead, you’ll find yourself needing to make quick decisions about which part of the conference to attend next. Once you’ve received the itinerary, plan out your day or days so that you know exactly which sessions you’d like to attend. Try to give yourself a good variety of talks, instead of just going to the ones you always attend because of your interest in them. You’d be surprised at what you might pick up or what else may interest you if you give it a chance.

Some conferences will even give you links to reading material before the conference. It is a good idea to do the reading as it will give you a background on what the talk is about, and can also help you think up some interesting questions to ask in advance.

Smart networking

Everyone knows that attending conferences can be a great way of networking within your industry. But it can be hard to do when hundreds of attendees are there for the same reason. That’s why you need to get smart about your networking.

Prior to the conference take the time to look up each of the guest speakers and find out a bit more about them online. Make a short-list of the ones you’d like to meet.

To make a meaningful connection, forget about trying to speak to them straight after they’ve finished a talk. That is when everyone will be battling for their attention so they will be swamped and rushed. Instead, send them an email or make a phone call before the conference, and ask if you can set up a time to catch up; a quick coffee or a bite to eat on one of the days. This way you’ll have your networking already organised before the conference even begins.

Don’t be a wall-flower

You attend a conference to discover and learn, and the best way of doing that is to participate. This doesn’t necessarily mean to get up and do a presentation (although, if you are ever asked to be a guest speaker you should grab the opportunity with both hands), but it does mean you should ask questions, participate in discussions and even try to offer solutions. You should also always introduce yourself to other people around you. Even if you have already set up meetings with the people you’d like to make meaningful connections with at the conference (as per point above), you should still be open to meeting other people. You’d be surprised at the amount of contacts you can make and the great people you could meet.

Team up

If you receive the itinerary for the conference and discover that there are several panels you’d love to attend but they are at conflicting times, don’t despair. Ask one of your colleagues or friends if they’d like to team up with you so that between you both, the whole event will be covered. Divide up the talks that interest you both and go your separate ways. Take notes and meet for coffee or lunch afterwards to discuss what you learned.

Keep the handouts

Finally, don’t throw away the handouts. File away everything that you receive as you’d be surprised how handy it can be down the track. All of the information you’ve been lucky to be given has been created by well-known and knowledgeable professionals. And the conference program itself can be a good directory of experts in your field.