By Sharon Muza and Cara Terreri
On the eve of the LamazeLIVE! 2018 conference in San Antonio, it’s appropriate to share my favorite tips for getting the most out of your conference experience. Whether you’re en route to the conference today or planning on attending a professional conference later this year, we’ve compiled exactly what not to do at a conference.
- Only hang out with people you know. It’s true -- some of the most fun at a conference comes from reconnecting with colleagues and old friends from around the globe. But if you don’t spend time meeting with and talking to new people, you’ll miss out on great opportunities to make impactful connections, learn new things, and collaborate with talented professionals. Reach out, introduce yourself, and make plans to meet up for a meal or drink with someone new at this year’s conference.
- Skip networking events. Not everyone likes the idea of “networking” -- it can sound and feel superficial, bothersome, and frankly, an introvert’s nightmare. But in our field, making connections with other people is crucial to advancing the important work we do. If you’ve never attended a networking event, now’s the time.
- Spend all of your time in the hotel. Part of the appeal of a conference is the chance to explore a new city -- see the sights, hear the sounds, taste the culinary delights. Take time outside of sessions to walk, bike or Uber around town to expose yourself to the conference city and all it has to offer.
- Use session time to catch up on Facebook and emails. If you’ve come to a conference for professional development and education, give yourself permission to be fully present. That means limiting use on your electronic devices during both concurrent and keynote sessions. It detracts from your experience and is distracting to others.
- Only attend sessions in your comfort zone. Part of the function of a professional conference is to stretch you in your perceptions, your knowledge, and your circle. If you are choosing sessions and speakers that only preach to your particular choir, you will miss out on vital professional and personal growth.
- Forget to give feedback. Anyone who performs/presents/interacts with an audience wants to know if what they do is meaningful to the participants. Feedback, typically obtained through the after conference evaluation is the best, most direct way for session presenters and the sponsoring organization to know what you valued, and how they could improve. Remember to keep some short notes after each session of the feedback you want to provide.
- Forget everything you learned. You’ve just finished your last day at conference and you’re brimming with aha moments and energy! On the trip home, you’re riding high on a wave of momentum with all the changes you are going to implement. And then life hits -- you stash your conference notebook on the shelf and nothing happens. Make a commitment to prioritize at least one new idea you are willing to try. Give yourself a deadline, along with milestones if necessary, and put it on your calendar. Hold yourself accountable!
Attending a conference is an invaluable educational experience. Your time and your money are both valuable commodities. It’s up to you to get the most value out of your conference experience. Opportunities abound -- don’t get caught doing what not to do!