It can be tough to get away from work when your to-do list reaches from your desk to the floor, but attending a conference could be just the shot in the arm you need to get re-energized, re-focused and even more inspired to further your cause. Most of the time, a great conference is worth a few days out of the office.
The key, however, is to get the most you can out of each conference. On one hand, you can show up, go through the motions, listen to the speakers, attend the luncheons and come back with a few new ideas. Or you can really invest time and energy, engage with strangers, hobnob with others in the industry and sink your teeth into the content—and come back ready to change the world.
Like the sound of the latter? Here are five ways to get more than just some cool swag out of your next conference.
1. Make connections before the conference even starts.
Most conferences will have an extensive social media presence with Facebook pages, Instagram accounts and Twitter handles with corresponding hashtags. Connect with other conference participants to pick their brains about relevant topics before the conference even begins. Once you do arrive at the conference, you’ll have instant connections and follow-up opportunities. In fact, you can even arrange meetings or lunch dates beforehand to be sure you talk face-to-face with the people on your “must meet” list. This sets you up for awesome networking success.
2. Take advantage of on-site networking opportunities.
Once you’re onsite, there will be built-in opportunities to meet people and connect with other nonprofit professionals or industry folks. Receptions, lunches, after-hours parties or excursions—take advantage of all the social gatherings on the agenda in lieu of watching TV in your hotel room. Also, look for natural spots to strike up a conversation. Charging stations, refreshment breaks, registration sign-in, book tables and the coffee shop next door are perfect places to introduce yourself, ask questions and exchange business cards (as well as give a quick elevator speech).
3. Visit the exhibit hall.
Everyone loves the free swag and candy, but the industry partners manning their booths can also give you valuable information. Wondering what’s current in email marketing? Ask around and compare notes. Looking for new fundraising ideas? Walk the aisles and actually engage with people who might be able to help. Don’t worry about getting stuck in a salesy conversation; you can always say “no thank you” and walk away if you feel too pressured. But engaging with the vendors and businesses in the exhibit hall may provide you with answers to help reduce costs, increase efficiency and update technology for much less than you might expect.
4. Use social networking tools.
Connect with new colleagues and friends on LinkedIn—it’s like adding them to your digital rolodex (and we all know how easily business cards get lost). Tweet nuggets of good information from your sessions. Engage with other conference goers on the conference’s Facebook page. And also take advantage of the conference mobile app, if they have one. Some conferences will have an app you can download that will list all the attendees with a messaging function, a customizable agenda, a social feed, real-time updates and an area for note taking. Of course, you don’t want to have your head in your phone the entire conference when you have the opportunity to engage face-to-face. But connecting online will help you extend new relationships beyond the conference as well as give coworkers at home a taste of what you’re learning.
5. Leave work at work.
Your email auto responder is your best friend while you’re out of the office. It might be tempting to try to keep up with email and answer messages as you go, or even work remotely during down times at the conference, but how many opportunities do you have throughout the year to engage with so many others in one spot who share similar interests, passions and work responsibilities? When you’re at a conference, be there 100%, if possible. Let your auto responder handle your emails for a few days and trust your coworkers hold down the fort. You’ll get more out of the conference if you set your mind on being fully present.
At Firespring, we’ve been to a few conferences ourselves—maybe you’ve seen us? Our passion is for the nonprofit world, and we love talking about websites, marketing and technology whenever we have a chance to set up a booth. Of course, we talk about that stuff all the time. If you’d like to get a free hands-on experience of what it would be like to partner with us for your online needs, just request a free website demo and we’d be happy to show you.