15 Ways to Make the Most out of a Conference (Why and How)

Your guide to maximizing your conference experience.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Ways to make the most out of a conference

Attending conferences is an important part of many jobs. Conferences can come in many different shapes and forms, ranging from a single seminar for a couple of hours to international multiday events that host many different speakers and a variety of options when it comes to choosing what to see and do.

Being asked to attend a conference might appear like it’s a distraction from your day job, but they are very useful events, and attendees must approach them with a degree of strategy and purpose in order to make the most out of the experience.

This article discusses the benefits of conferences, what you need to bring to them, and how to make the most out of attending them.

The benefits of attending an industry conference

Conferences can benefit you in many ways. When considering attending, think about these benefits and how they can impact your work:

  • Demonstrate that you care about your profession: Attending conferences takes effort and time, and doing so shows your peers and managers that you truly care about what you do.
  • Expand your knowledge: Conferences enable you to learn new things and perhaps take away best practices or knowledge from the people you network with or the presentations you attend.
  • Meet your heroes: Conferences provide an unparalleled opportunity for you to meet inspirational people that you might look up to in your industry. There might also be famous people there whom you can meet.
  • Opportunity to network: At industry conferences, you’ll get to network with many people who you might not normally get to meet, such as experts, peers from other sectors and colleagues from other locations.
  • Stay up to date in your field: Conferences showcase what’s new and changing in your industry, and attending them will enable you to keep informed about the latest news.

What to bring to a conference

In order to make the most out of industry conferences, you need to take with you certain things. Here’s a list of the must-have essentials to take with you to conferences:

  • Business cards: Having an ample supply of business cards with you can support your networking. They’re also handy for casual meet-and-greets.
  • Comfortable shoes: Get ready to do a lot of walking at conferences! Take with you a pair of smart, cushioned shoes to ensure you can get around everything you want to see without collecting blisters along the way.
  • Laptop: Essential for keeping informed and updated while you’re away from the office, having a laptop can also help you collate notes. Remember to take your charging cable and a power bank!
  • Notebook: Take a notepad with plenty of space, as well as being flexible enough to carry around and make notes on the go (for example, dot pads can be used in various orientations).
  • Shoulder bag: Having a shoulder bag means that you can walk around the conference comfortably while carrying your laptop and notepad, as well as any conference swag you might be collecting.

15 tips to make the most out of a conference

It’s important to put some thought into attending a conference to get the most out of your experience. Consider how to prepare for it, what to do when you are there, and what to do afterwards.

Preparing for a conference

1. Get ready to participate

When attending a conference, it’s vital that you don’t be a wallflower. Interact, share ideas and ask questions in the various seminars. Failure to do this will only mean that you get the bare minimum from the conference and squander chances to meet people that you might not get the chance to meet again.

Start building a bank of queries you might want to ask and research the seminars so you can respond to questions or participate in interactive elements with skill and knowledge. Finally, prepare all that you need for networking, such as attendee information and business cards.

2. Register early

Registering early for a conference has several key benefits. Firstly, registering early often means paying for securing your space, and this means you’re committed and motivated to attend. You might even get early bird perks or discounts.

Registering early also means that you’ll get first dibs on securing space in certain limited-attendance seminars and possible preferred options on accommodation, while you mitigate the risk of not being able to attend if the conference becomes sold out.

3. Research who you want to meet

It’s essential for you to research the people that you want to meet at the conference. Understand what they might need that you can offer, and be ready to share knowledge or offer support. Get to know their career journeys and professional profiles so you can make small talk with them in breaks and dinners.

Researching people at seminars essentially greases the wheels of networking. If you find networking challenging, then doing some homework on the people you want to meet will make the process much easier.

4. Review the agenda

Reviewing the agenda for the conference has several key advantages. Firstly, you’ll know what to expect; this means that you can plan travel arrangements and be diligent about what to take with you. However, the greatest benefit of reviewing the agenda is that you can research who will also be there and who you’re likely to meet. This means that you can prepare for networking events and what you might share.

Finally, reviewing the conference agenda will mean that you can be organized with your time, and plan to attend sessions and events that are aligned with your needs and goals.

5. Set goals

Attending conferences takes time, money and effort. You should head into them with a clear vision of what you want to get out of the experience. Before you attend a conference, use your knowledge of the agenda, the people attending and your own development plan to work out goals you wish to achieve while you’re there.

Set out goals as SMART objectives, and ensure that you review these objectives constantly, at least every day while you’re at the conference. Be sure to share your conference goals with your manager before you leave, and debrief with them after you return.

During the conference

6. Ask questions

Curiosity in a conference goes a long way. Be sure to ask questions to the various presenters, as this is a great way to not only learn more but also to demonstrate to them that you’re genuinely interested in what they are sharing.

Questions work best when they are prepared for. Either prepare questions before you attend the conference or use the notes you make while you’re there to plan out meaningful questions that will genuinely contribute to further understanding. Don’t just ask questions for the sake of it; this can come across as insincere or, worse, uninformed.

7. Attend social events

After a busy day attending the conference, taking in information and networking with people, it’s tempting to view social events at the conference as time to unwind and get some “you” time.

Consider spending social events with other attendees. Don’t feel that you have to talk about work, as time spent over dinner and maybe the evening’s happy hour is time that can lead to finding friends or setting up productive networking introductions. Many conferences also offer social media networking opportunities like Facebook groups, so participate in these as well.

8. Be strategic with your time

If you have reviewed the conference’s agenda carefully enough, then you should know which sessions to attend to get the most out of your time there. When you’re there, ensure you spend your time at the conference engaged in activities that contribute to continuous learning. Get involved in seminars, and view coffee shop breaks and mealtimes as opportunities to connect.

Ensure you also factor in rest time so you don’t overload yourself, and get time to recharge. For example, if you have a fitness routine at home, then do all you can to carry this forward into the conference.

9. Network with speakers

Perhaps the most important part of conferences are the networking opportunities. Ensure that you allow plenty of time to network, even if you find the idea of networking events daunting.

Often, conference attendees are people that you might seldom meet but are influential, and can be good contacts for a long time. Try to spend time with people that you wouldn’t normally speak with (ie: if you’re going to the conference with colleagues, then try to spend only a little time with them). And as mentioned before, diligently research the people you want to meet.

10. Take notes

During a conference, there will be a lot of information coming from many different angles, and you’ll want to take in as much as you can. Be sure to take plenty of notes as you attend presentations. There’s no point in scribbling down every word you hear; take clear notes and organize them into categories so you can refer to them at different parts of the conference.

It’s recommended to take pictures of slides and also to collect any supportive collateral that presenters might be handing out. Finally, although notetaking is important, remember to spend time watching the presentations and listening to people; sometimes notetaking can distract from this.

After the conference

11. Follow up

There are many different ways that you can follow up after the conference ends.

The first one is to contact the speakers and presenters, and thank them for what they shared. This will go a long way to make them feel valued, and not every attendee will do this. Additionally, implement any calls-to-action that have been shared with you. This could be reading a particular book or doing further research on topics that have interested you during the conference.

12. Implement learnings at work

Always look for ways to implement your key takeaways from the conference at work. There might be many different ways you can do this, including applying what was covered in presentations, reviewing reading material or support books, and drawing upon your notes.

It might help that after the conference ends, you review the goals you set before it started and go over these with your manager, setting new goals about how the learning can be implemented at work. Getting your manager’s involvement not only stimulates commitment but can also ensure learnings are aligned with business objectives.

13. Review notes

After the conference ends, it’s an easy mistake to simply file away the notes you have made or let them slip further and further into your notepad, never to be seen again.

Take time after the conference to review your notes and maybe consolidate them into concise summaries that you can refer to regularly. Use your notes to reflect on when coming across situations at work and use them to look back on the conference at regular intervals. This will ensure that the conference is working for you long after it ended.

14. Share what you learned with colleagues

An altruistic aspect of attending conferences is that you can pay forward the learning you received. Once you’re back in the office, arrange time to meet with your colleagues and share with them what you learned, or organize a book club at the office to review the supporting literature.

Depending on your role, you can format this into actions that colleagues can take, or simply pitch the learning as a “nice to do” in order for them to benefit from the experience in the same way you did.

People who share learning in this way demonstrate great mentoring and leadership skills, and come across as individuals who take pride in sharing knowledge for the greater good of organizations.

15. Sustain connections

All throughout the conference, you have been busy working, asking questions and broadening the list of people that can support your career, as well as people whom you want to support. It’s essential that you don’t squander these new connections by not sustaining them after the conference ends.

Arrange times to catch up with your new network. Connect with them on LinkedIn, and if you live and work in the same locale, then arrange a time for a coffee and a catch-up. Even if you don’t plan to spend a great deal of time with certain new connections, be sure to message them after the conference ends, saying how great it was to meet them.

Key takeaways

Making the most out of the conference experience is essential to your professional network and development. When thinking about making the most out of conferences, keep the following key points in mind:

  • Conferences can benefit attendees in many different ways.
  • Preparing for conferences can enable you to strategically plan your time when you are there.
  • When you’re at the conference, don’t be afraid of networking with people and attending the presentations that will be the most useful for you.
  • Following up after the conference ends can include thanking presenters and paying the knowledge forward by sharing conference information with others.

Putting some preparation into attending conferences will not only ensure you make the most of them, but also that you enjoy it. And, ultimately, enjoying some time away from the office is one of the biggest draws in attending them!

Got a question? Let us know in the comments section below.