Attending conferences as an SApro can be a double-edged sword. You’re excited to get a few days away from campus, to see old friends and former colleagues, and feel rejuvenated or be re-inspired for your work. But you’re also hustling even more than usual to make sure things run smoothly in your absence. When you return home, fresh inspiration can quickly fade at the sight of your flooded inbox and booked calendar.
There’s no right answer, no perfect conference experience. But you can make sure that you get the most bang for your (or your employer’s) conference buck by being aware of the variety of opportunities for learning, and by engaging in them with intention.
Think of the conference as an immersion experience in which a place and culture are created for a brief few days, and you have the chance to learn from every interaction, environment, and experience. Some first steps:
Spend some time with the schedule.
– Make connections, ask questions, share your experiences. See old friends, but make new ones, too. Reach out to presenters, organizers, attendees (more AND less experienced than you). Volunteer.
– If you put your foot in your mouth, own it, apologize, and make amends if appropriate.
– Capitalize on chances for social interaction, but make space for quality down-time. If you need a break, take it. If you take a break, take a real one. Find some quiet, sit with your thoughts, take a brisk walk or a power nap. Break the habit of filling every gap in your day with social media, shop talk, or email. (P.S. you might want to try this in your real life, too.)
Social observation. Conference attendees include “celebrity” speakers, high-ranking executive types, sponsors and vendors, students, and everyone in between. Just as you would in a new country, do some people-watching. Who interacts with whom, how do crowds ebb and flow, what does the negative space tell you? There’s a world of lessons in stepping back enough to see from outside the circle.
And, yes, social media. Like any tool, it can be used well or… questionably. At most conferences, there’s a wealth of information and context available in the hashtags, and you can access it whether you choose to dive in to the conversation or not.
Learn from this conference to get more from the next.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Joe Ginese on Maximizing Conferences