Conferences, such as the National Sex Ed Conference, can be an amazing opportunity both for learning new tendencies and research finding. However, this experience can also be overwhelming since there is so much going on. Then, how do you get the most out of a conference? These are the ten tips for a successful conference experience.
1. Attend a conference knowing your goals and having questions.
Before going to the conference, reflect on what you hope to get out of it. For this, you will need to know your goals. Are you interested on learning about specific topic? Are you interested on networking or finding a job? Are you interested on writing about the conference on your blog? Knowing your goals will help you to decide which workshops are more relevant to you and who do you want to meet.
Second, write down a list of questions you are trying to answer regarding the conference theme. Having these questions will give you a purpose when interacting with other attendees, browsing vendors, or listening to keynotes. Both the goals and the questions will help your interactions to be more meaningful.
2. Read the conference schedule.
Plan ahead of time the sessions you want to attend. Remember that you are coming to this conference with goals and questions. It is essential that you read the conference schedule thoroughly, and select the workshops that will help you to achieve your goals and to respond your questions. Stay away from workshops that you are an expert on, and try to go to workshops to broaden your expertise in topics you have not mastered.
3. Use social media.
Live tweet, live instagram, and live facebook! Tweet, retweet, and reply to people. How to tweet? (1) Rather than repeating what the speaker is sating, communicate opinions and insights; (2) Use the conference hashtags (#NSEC15 for our conference), the workshop hashtags, and the tweeter handle of the speaker; (3) Use apps to monitor tweets (twitterific is great!).
4. Ask questions during keynotes and workshops.
Ask questions even if you feel uncomfortable asking them. Don’t be shy and ask questions, you can ask about specific points you want to know more, you can ask for clarification, or you can ask about a specific problem (you can even ask one of the questions you prepared from the beginning if the topics are related). Speakers welcome questions because that means that the audience is engaged and interested on the presentation.
5. Publish your notes as blog posts.
There are many benefits of publishing your notes as blog posts: (1) You will be able to share what you learn with your colleagues and followers; (2) You will be able to reflect and evaluate what you are learning more critically; (3) Your notes will never fade and they will be always available to review; and (4) Writing a blog post will keep you more alert and participative during the sessions. If you decide not to write a blog, then at least at the end of each workshop write down three takeaways and any follow up on the topic or the speaker.
6. Learn how to start conversations.
Talk to other people since networking is part of the conference experience. You can approach to people and ask questions about: their opinion on the last session; their experience with the conference so far; the sessions they plan to attend; what they do for work. This type of questions works as ice-breakers when meeting new people. After you ask these questions you can focus on trying to achieve your goals for the conference and to respond the questions you developed before coming. It is important for you to have an elevator pitch ready to use. Practice it before the conference.
7. Learn how to end conversations.
Sometimes you can feel trapped in a conversation or you feel you want to use your time on meeting other people. In those moments, you need to use phrases, such as “It was nice to meet you” followed by “Do you have a business card?” or “I think I am going to mingle around for a little bit” or “I want to say hello to a colleague.”
8. Schedule meetings ahead of time.
Reach out to people who you know will be at the conference and set up meetings. You can meet for coffee, or for lunch, you can plan to attend to one of the special events together or you can go to the party together (Sex Ed Dance). If you have meetings planned ahead of time, you will feel more confident if you don’t know anyone at the conference.
9. Give and collect business cards.
Bring business cards to the conference and your QR code. Business cards work for old-fashioned people, and QR codes work for those who use apps and their cellphone as their second brain. Create your own QR code, print it or have it on your phone, and share it with those who have a QR code reader. By the way, download a QR reader app in Google Play or in iTunes. Remember to follow up (email or call) once you are back in the office/school. You can mention something about how you met, the things you talked about, and suggest how you can work together (or research together) or stay in touch in the future.
10. Meet and thank everyone who served on the planning committee.
People in the planning committee deserve recognition and your compliments. You will also stand out when you thank them for their work. Remember that this also counts as networking. People in the planning committee are professionals with a lot of experience in their field.