5 ways to get the most out of conferences and events

There’s no shortage of professional development gatherings. Communicators can maximize their out-of-office learning by preparing for the event and its aftermath.

It can be difficult to justify leaving your office to attend a conference or professional event, especially if it involves traveling.

Beyond the monetary investment, it’s important to invest your time and attention to prepare for the meeting. Being an engaged learner will help you at the event and when you return to work. Think good follow-through and ROI.

Here are five tips to help you make the most of seminars and conferences:

1. Do your homework. If the organization hosting your conference sends a survey in advance of the event, take a few minutes to complete it. This will help organizers and presenters tailor their sessions specifically to the audience. If there’s no advance communication, review the agenda and write down questions you would like answered. Don’t show up at the registration desk five minutes before the event without thinking about what you would like to learn. It’s also your responsibility to remind your team members that you’ll be away from the office. Put a plan in place so things run smoothly in your absence. Also, don’t forget to bring a stack of business cards.

2. Be engaged. This should be obvious, but it’s worth reminding yourself that your goal is to learn. Take clear notes that will make sense when you refer to them back at the office. If the speaker provides a copy of a slide deck or other handouts, use them as a resource. Don’t be distracted by your electronic devices. Check messages only during breaks, unless something urgent arises.

3. Meet (new) people. It doesn’t make much sense to interact with colleagues from your own organization or other folks you already know. This includes mingling with your competitors. Don’t think of your competition as the enemy. You can learn what they are doing by watching or connecting with them on LinkedIn or Twitter. Ask for their business card, too. It’s a small world; the acquaintance you make today could be your co-worker or business partner a year from now.

4. Share with your team. Upon your return, schedule a meeting to pass along key tips, ideas and best practices. How can you apply what you’ve learned to your organization? Engage your team members in a discussion, and create an action plan to put these tactics into motion.

5. Evaluate the opportunity. Even if there’s not a conference feedback form when the event ends, determine whether you have learned what you had set out to study. Were the program and event well organized? Would you attend another conference hosted by this company? Think of other topics you’d like to learn about, and seek out opportunities to connect with experts and speakers in those areas. Follow up in a timely manner.

Do you feel prepared for your conference? Good. Put on your lanyard, grab your tote bag, and get to work. Maybe I’ll see you there.

A former newspaper journalist, Lisa Parro is public affairs manager at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill., part of Advocate Health Care, the largest health system in Illinois. She has been in hospital public relations since 2008.

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