Next week I will be guest speaking at an international conference for some of my colleagues in Saint-Gobain Glass. Whilst I am busy preparing a fun filled presentation and workshop, I am also aware that I will be one of many speakers. So in addition to catching up on current events within the Glass industry, networking, and resolving any outstanding issues, I am preparing myself to maximise my time at the conference. What do I mean? Well, I want to get the most that I can out of the conference. This means preparing and organising myself, in addition to taking responsibility for whatever I can gain. That in mind, here are the 7 steps I take when preparing for such a conference. Perhaps you’ll find them useful!
Step 1: Take responsibility
We’ve all been enrolled in conferences that we didn’t particularly want to go to. The temptation to just sit back and do as little as possible while enjoying the nice hotel and great restaurant food, is always there, even if you wanted to go to the conference! Instead (and this applies even to the conferences you don’t want to go to), take responsibility for your learning, your networking opportunities and the potential benefits you can get from the conference. If you go to it with a negative outlook, you will gain nothing from it. Think positively and prepare yourself. Even at the worst conference, you can network. You may learn more than you expected if you go into it with a fresh outlook!
Step 2: Identify the goals
What exactly do I want to get out of the conference? What are my objectives? Once there, it is easy to get sidetracked. You’ll be networking, chatting with old friends and new acquaintances and it is easy to forget your original intentions and needs. To prevent this, get hold of the agenda and outline the sessions that may be useful to you. Make sure that you can attend the parts you need / want to and then when at these sessions, pay close attention to what’s going on.
You might enjoy a technical discussion on the chemical properties of glass for example, or maybe a seminar on preparing PowerPoint presentations. However, if you are already great at preparing presentations, you are not maximising the time you have available. Where are your weaknesses? Where are your strengths? Attend the sessions that will help you to become a better manager or specialist in your field. Then when you have identified the time slots that you absolutely MUST attend, then you can look at ones you would enjoy / where you can sit back and relax. Of course, networking with other specialists is useful, even if the seminar isn’t, but you can network over breaks! SWOT analysis isn’t just for new products, projects etc., you can and should, use it on yourself. What could you improve about yourself at the conference?
Step 4: Agenda planning
Plan your time. You cannot be focused 100% of the time, no matter how willing you are. Plan time to network; plan time to learn; plan time to relax. Remember you have to factor in travel time and meals. If you’re not a morning person, factor that into your preparations! At this upcoming conference, I am going to pay very close attention in some of the workshops, and in others I am simply going to sit back and relax, build up my network and conserve energy for the next “training” session.
One of the main reasons why we have conferences (especially global ones) is to have the opportunity to network. Some of the people I will see next week, I only meet once a year due to the long distances involved. A global conference gives me a chance to catch up with them, but it also gives me the opportunity to increase my network and “sell” myself. Networking isn’t just for job searchers. It is also for improving the work flow in your current position. No matter how much you know there is always something to learn. New contacts bring new information, new perspectives and new solutions. Best practice comes about from the sharing of knowledge. You cannot become the best if you don’t network. A good way to prepare your networking plan is to get hold of the list of participants. Check through the names. Do you know anyone on the list? What can you find out about the other participants? Getting to know a little more about the other participants will help you identify who could be a good addition to your network and perhaps help you identify where you are likely to run into them during the conference.
Step 6: Don’t overdo it
Having just proof-read the above steps, it occurs to me that I need to stress again the point about relaxation time. You cannot do everything. In fact, you shouldn’t even try. You learn the most when you are fresh. Conferences can be extremely tiring. You will not create good long lasting impressions on the people you meet and you will not be able to learn anything new when you are over tired. Plan to get lots of sleep. As tempting it is to spend more time in the bar networking, remember you will need to get up early the next morning.
Once you get to the conference, assuming that you have prepared well, you’ll be very busy. However, don’t forget, you are on display just as much as the people presenting. Other attendees will be assessing you as potential additions to their network or even, *gasp* as potential recruits for their company. You are not just representing your company at these types of events, you are representing yourself. Make sure that the impression the other participants get is a good one!