Getting the Most out of Attending a Conference

by BY MARK BICE, Regional Vice President, HPN Global and Immediate Past President, Meeting Professionals International-New England Chapter | Aug 26, 2015
One of the hottest topics in meeting planning today is centered on the "attendee experience." Beyond just picking keynote speakers, session topics, and great locations, meeting planners are increasingly concerned with how each attendee experiences the conference. This includes selecting healthy food, creating unique and comfortable room sets, and ensuring that networking opportunities are given their importance.
With all that goes into creating a "WOW-worthy event," it's even more important for you to know how to make the most out of your experience.

There is no bigger task for a conference planner than creating a reason for the attendee to be there. More than just good marketing, the draw needs to be established. It has to be worth the attendee's time to be out of the office, off the phone, and away from their business and families.

It's important to understand that the days that you could just show up at a large conference, find a chair in the back row, and hope to be entertained are gone. Your money and time are too precious to waste. Here are some tips to make the most out of what the event planners put together for you.

Sit Close to the Front

Fight the urge to fall back in the room and sit in the first few rows. Sometimes a facial expression or a quick side comment may be an epiphany for you and one that you would miss sitting in the back. It also helps you connect with the speaker on a more personal basis, making it easier to approach them later at the reception for follow-up questions.

Network.Network, Network
A recent study suggested that almost 75% of what people got out of a conference came during the networking opportunities. Jumping on your phone at the break may be necessary, but keeping it in your pocket while you bump into someone while getting coffee may land you something more long­term. You never know. Catch up with an old friend at the cocktail hour, but don't forget the person you've never met, the person who's quietly standing at a high-top table looking around.

Cellphones? Keep them ON

Tweet, share, and take advantage of the conference app if there is one available. Most apps now allow you to network, check the schedule, and give feedback real-time about your experience. Is the coffee break mysteriously out of sugar? Text the hotel immediatelyl

Fill Out the Survey

Whether on line after the conference or on an app during the conference, meeting planners and the association hosting the meeting need to know what you think. Critique everything from speakers, to the venue, to the food, and the receptions. All the hours/weeks/months put into creating the conference should warrant 10 minutes of your time to share your thoughts.

Attending a conference should be considered an investment and not a requirement. Your time is valuable and ensuring that your investment pays dividends long­term takes very little effort. Good luck, raise your hand, be heard,
be engaged in the experience.