Top 10 Ways To Make The Most Of Conferences

Your boss has agreed to send you on a conference for work. How can you make the most of that opportunity? Maximise the benefits by following these 10 tips.

Conference picture from Shutterstock

As with last week’s guide to things to remember when visiting the USA, I’m thinking about these issues ahead of our World Of Servers visit to TechEd North America with our winning bloggers. That said, anyone attending a work event should be able to benefit from these tips.

10. Plan the sessions you’ll attend

This is actually our number one tip, but it’s so important we wanted to mention it up front. Any event will go much more smoothly if you work out which sessions you plan to attend ahead of time rather than simply winging it on the day. While one-day events may offer minimal choice, for anything longer you’ll typically need to plan what you want to attend (and what you plan to skip). This isn’t a tricky task given that conference agendas are now invariably available online.

While many conferences will incorporate an online or mobile-accessible agenda that you customise for yourself, I’ve always found it valuable to type up the itinerary myself. That ensures that it gets lodged in my head properly.

9. Update business cards once a day

You’ll invariably meet new people at a conference and exchange cards, but the odds are good that once you return home, those cards will sit ignored in your conference bag. Set aside five minutes at the beginning of each day to add any new business cards to your contact list. If you scan these automatically using your smartphone, it’s a speedy process.

8. Set a specific objective

Attending conferences is mandatory for professional development in some fields, but no matter what your role, make sure you have a specific mission for the event. That could be educational (“I want to learn more about the new features in Windows Server 2012”); it could be networking (“I want to meet twenty data centre managers”); it could be a workplace plan (“I want to come back with five new ideas to implement at work”). Whatever the goal, setting one will give focus to your session selections and help you justify your attendance before the event or after the fact.

7. Get ready for roaming if you’re travelling OS

While it’s great to have a trip overseas paid for with company money, you can quickly run up a ridiculous phone bill in the process. Avoid that potential embarrassment and expense by checking out our top 10 ways to avoid global roaming rorts.

6. Establish times for contacting family

Another good reason to plot your schedule in advance: you can commit to when you’ll get back in touch with family, whether that’s a quick phone call or a leisurely business chat on your tablet. Conference schedules tend to be busy; setting time aside before you go ensures loved ones won’t feel neglected.

5. Find your hotel’s recycling bins

At any conference, you’ll be bombarded with brochures, magazines and handouts, the vast majority of which will be ditched. Don’t just dump them in your hotel room; make a little extra effort and see if there’s a recycling option. (The hotel business centre is often a good place to start.)

4. Don’t pack too much

No-one needs to attend a conference loaded up with enough outfits to fully costume a stage musical. Cut down on unneeded items with our list of five things not to pack

3. Cut spending on flights

Flying to a conference can often cost as much as the conference attendance fee. Check out our tips for scoring cheap flights to avoid needless waste.

2. Keep expenses under control

If you’re on a work trip, the company should pay for relevant expenses, but that means staying on top of your receipts and knowing what the corporate policy is. Our guide to managing business travel expenses has lots of hints to make the process easier. As with business cards, updating expenses once a day as you go can be less hassle than dealing with a batch at the end.

1. Define expectations back at the workplace

You might be on the other side of the country or the planet, but mobile phones and emails make it possible for colleagues to contact you regardless. Establish clear expectations before you go on your trip. Make it clear that you won’t be answering email as regularly, and that urgent queries need to go elsewhere. There’s no point travelling to a conference and then spending every minute there dealing with regular workplace issues.

Have additional conference survival tips to share? Tell us in the comments.

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