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5 Tips (+ Bonus Tip) For Getting The Most Out Of Conferences

Get most out of a conference

I’m off to Barcelona at the weekend as I am part of a panel debate at the PMI Global Congress in Spain next week. My session is on collaboration tools and tech for project managers.

Today I’ve got 5 tips (and a personal favourite bonus one at the end) about how to get the most out of attending a conference. You make a big investment in going to conferences so it helps to do a bit of thinking and planning about how to benefit while you’re there.

1. Wear Your Name Badge

Make it easy for people to start a conversation with you. Wear your name badge with pride. Women, wear a neckline that’s appropriate for people looking at your chest all day if it’s the type of badge that pins on.

If your badge is on a lanyard consider tying a knot in it to make it shorter so it doesn’t dangle round your middle. That’s a tip for short people like me 🙂

2. Edit Your Badge

It’s OK to take your badge out of its plastic holder and write something on it. I have added my Twitter handle (@pm4girls) to many a conference badge. If the details on your badge are pretty meaningless, add something else, like your department.

Write big and clear. The point of displaying your name badge is to make it easy for people to start chatting, and for them to see if they have anything in common with you. Much of the benefit of conferences is in the informal networking.

3. Give Out Your Business Cards With Care

You’ve packed your business cards, so use them. But don’t force them on people. My rule is that if someone asks for my contact details then I will give them a card.

I don’t offer them routinely to people I meet in the lunch queue because I know that if it was me I wouldn’t want to receive them.

Have your phone available too so you can snap a picture of their name badge and then look them up later to connect on LinkedIn.

The next tip has saved me many times and helped me deliver on my promises!

4. Annotate The Cards You Receive

Memory jog: Write what you talked about and what the person looked like on the back of their business card.

Write some identifying features on the back of business cards that you receive. You’ll probably be coming home with a bunch of them, and if you’re like me you won’t be able to remember who was who.

Jot down what you talked about and what the person looked like on the back of their card so you remember.

Also write down anything you said you would do for them. This is really important if you want to build credibility with your new contact, so if you said you’d send them a link to the article you talked about, then write down your promise on their card and follow up when you’re home.

5. Work Through Your Hit List

You should have made a list of the exhibitors you want to see before you left home. It saves you valuable time when you arrive, especially if the exhibition floor is large. Now’s the time to go and visit the stands of the companies you have highlighted.

First check that they have actually turned up. I normally do a sweeping tour of the exhibition hall to see who is there, then I can plan who to go back to. Use the floor plan in your conference programme to tick off the stands you have visited.

If you’ve arranged to meet anyone at the conference, tweet or text them to let them know that you’ve made it and to confirm details. I have sent someone a selfie before so that they knew who they were looking for – event rooms can be quite crowded so make it as easy as possible for someone to find you.

Bonus Tip: Bail Out of Dull Presentations

You’ve chosen your sessions and you’re sitting in a presentation. The speaker begins and… you realise that this is nothing like you expected. It’s not pitched at the right level for you. You aren’t going to learn anything. Or the speaker is talking about something really interesting but in a delivery style that is going to have you asleep in the next 5 minutes.

Get up. Walk out. Speakers are used to it and won’t take offence. You’ve made the investment to come to a conference and you owe it to yourself to get the most out of your experience. That doesn’t include sitting through talks that aren’t your thing.

Find another speaker in another room and sneak in at the back!

I used to find it really awkward to go to conferences, but over time I’ve picked up some tricks and tips that make it much easier. If you struggle to network at events, I can help. My ebook, Better Networking Skills, is a straightforward, easy-to-implement guide to being a more confident networker.

Click the image below to find out more.

More confident networking

How to get most out of a professional conference

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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.

Comments

  1. Kasia says

    Elizabeth thank you for very useful tips. I couldn’t agree more. Especially the one related to giving out your business cards with care. During PMI LIM conference in Barcelona last week I’ve had that experience some participants almost threw their cards in me or others. It’s also very interesting point with bailing out from presentations that you’re not interested as you expected. I’ve always thought it’s a sign of lack of respect when you leave someone’s presentation. Maybe you’re right at the end you’re coming to the conference to take out of it as much as possible. I was wondering what was most surprising aspect for you during the Congress.

    • Elizabeth Harrin says

      Hello Kasia. I think there are ways that mean you can leave a presentation while being respectful – don’t leap up and say ‘she doesn’t know what she’s talking about’ and storm out. (I’ve never seen anyone do that, actually!) If you are worried it might not be for you, sit near the end of a row and go out quietly while there’s a natural pause or, for example, during a video when the speaker isn’t speaking. At the end of the day you’ve got to also consider your investment in your career development along with the presenter’s feelings. Imagine spending a whole day in mediocre presentation – that wouldn’t feel particularly worthwhile to me.
      The most surprising aspect of Congress for me was the lack of time I had. Whizing from one presentation to another, trying to see the exhibitors, meeting people I had only ever ‘met’ on the internet before, meeting people who were totally new. I actually skipped the last educational session to catch up on my notes, keep up to date with work emails from of the office back home, record a final video and try to get some headspace before the closing keynote…only to use up some of that time being interviewed by a roving PMI journalist. I had a great time and did (mostly) everything I wanted, but going to Congress – or any large conference – should not be seen as a break!

  2. Amanda Seabert-Arguello says

    Great tips on conferences! I especially like the tips on editing your name badge and giving out your business cards with care. Annotating the business cards received will also be extremely helpful down the road. Thanks for the information!

  3. Leigh says

    I make notes on business cards and have taken pictures of folks that show their nametags – but I’ve NEVER considered editing my name badge! What a great tip!
    And I’m grateful for permission to leave sessions that are proving to be not valuable. I needed that.

    I’m headed to a large conference in 3 weeks and these tips will be valuable.

    Thanks!

  4. jeff furman says

    Hi Elizabeth, very helpful list. I would suggest that “there is another” (as Darth Vader said it best! 🙂 )
    When approaching new contacts at conferences, I find that it’s always good to try to find a way to appeal to the other person’s WIFM (What’s In it For Me). When we can find a way to help the other guy, such as with information, or even a “Like” to their page, they will very often want to reciprocate and try to help us back. But when people send off too much of an “I’m out for myself” vibe, it turns others off.

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