Beyond Handshakes and Business Cards: How To Have Your Best Conference Ever


You got fresh business cards printed, you got a snazzy pre-conference haircut, you picked comfortable shoes, and you packed enough snacks to fuel an average marathoner, but are you really ready to take on Collaborate? Check out the tips below for conference-going strategies.

FOR LEARNING

Find Your Nugget

After each presentation or panel, distill the content to the one idea that impacted you the most. Importantly, this doesn’t have to be the thesis of the presentation at all, just the nugget of information that has some real bearing on your life and/or business. I like to do this on a 2x4 index card and staple it to the front of any presentation materials I received.

See Stars

If you’re the voracious note-taking type, take 5 minutes after each session and differentiate items you want to take action on -- highlight, star, outline, tick -- from the theory discussed in the session. Add the items you’ve set aside to a master list at the end of the conference and post it in your workspace.

Jinkies, Split Up, Gang!

Conferences are often full of interesting sessions that might all be germane to your business. If you’re attending with friends or coworkers, make like the Scooby Gang and split up. Meet up midday to share materials (and the index-card takeaways from above). This not only lets you canvas the conference more widely, but it creates valuable discussion about what you might each get out of the same set of information.

FOR MEETING PEOPLE

Don’t Sweat Skipping Sessions

Many of the greatest moments at conferences occur outside of the proscribed agenda - you might find a great collaborator from a random conversation, so don’t throw away an opportunity to connect because you think you need to attend every scheduled session. The Collaborate organizers have made every effort to facilitate that serendipity in the downtime between sessions, so put yourself out there!

Have A Tagline

Practice introducing yourself in one sentence. You’re going to meet a whole bunch of people, so give them a shorthand for you, especially if your particular field is highly technical or not widely understood. Being “UX guy” is way better than being “bathroom line guy.”

Ditch The 52-Card Pileup

If you’re on your networking game, you’ll probably leave Collaborate with fat stacks of business cards. Keep them from becoming your next desk accessory using the 2-Pile method:

Pile 1 is for people you need to follow up with for something specific. Right after you meet these Pile 1-ers, swap cards and write your follow-up action on the back of theirs. For example, “introduce to bear trainer,” or “ask about sponsorship.”

Pile 2 is for folks who you just want to slide into your Rolodex (are those still a thing? I guess... in your iPhone contacts?) for later. Write the conference and date on the back of their cards so you have some context.

(Pile 3, which is optional, is for folks you don’t really want to do anything with. Either write the conference and date on the back and slot them into Pile 2 in case they should ever become useful, or use them to clean under your fingernails/make it rain/practice origami.)

tl;dr: Arrive with goals, whether they're learning outcomes or specific fellow attendees you want to meet, then open yourself to wherever the conference takes you, be it to a life-changing talk or to midnight oysters at Old Ebbitt with all your new friends.

 

By Meredith Whitfield

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