How to make the most of your conference experience

By Stine Holmgaard on September 21, 2023
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Experience tells me that there are two common expectations for conference attendees:

  • Wanting to bring home new knowledge
  • Not being bored during this process

Most people are obviously going or being sent to conferences to become smarter in their field, which leads to new contributions to their company. However, the truth is also that for many, conferences are experienced as a break – a quick getaway from the usual workday.

In my time as a conference organizer, I’ve met and talked with many attendees. What I’ve experienced is that the people who feel a conference fulfil their expectations are the people who:

  • Realize they are not there to take a break
  • Create a plan for their attendance

The first bullet point is at your own expense. The second one, however, is something I can help you with.

Read on to get some tips and tricks on making your own conference plan shine.

Conference attendees laugh at a speaker's joke

Before the conference

Create goals relating to the programme

What is it exactly that you want from the conference experience?

Is it new knowledge? About what subject? Is it new collaborators? To solve what type of problem? Is it perhaps to get a look at a specific product?

Write down a few concrete goals before taking off; it motivates more than loose thoughts and ideas. This leads to the next important part of your strategy…

Who do you want to meet?

I see many different types of conference attendees. Some of them are the "Sponge”, coming to take in everything, the "Superfan”, coming to meet their idol (typically the keynote speaker), “the Break-out King”, attending the conference to get some time off work… and then there is the "Networker”, which is the person coming to connect with new industry people.

Whether or not you are the networker, you should look into who else is attending the conference.

You might learn a lot just from showing up but imagine the contacts and information you could bring home by doing some research on the speakers and companies attending. They just might be your next colleague or customer.

Stay organized

The well-prepared conference attendees always have their essentials at hand: notepad, pen, computer/tablet, charger/power bank, and, of course, business cards.

Also, remember to put on your email auto-reply. One less thing to stress about, one less thing to steal your limited time.

 

During the conference

Show up in good time

You know them too well. The person who shows up ten minutes late, makes a noisy entrance to a meeting (no matter how quiet they are trying to be).

But besides avoiding being that annoying, disturbing person yourself, there is actually another incentive to show up in good time. If you are there early, before the sessions start, you can get a cup of coffee, get a great seat and perhaps network a little bit before the first speaker appears on stage.  

Spread out

Having a colleague by your side all day always feels comfortable and safe. However, this safe place is also what usually stops the formation of new connections. If you’re coming as a group, make sure to spread out during the day. It might feel unnatural, but you see these people every day. Perhaps you and your colleague even have different interests and needs which is a good reason to go with separate tracks.

Remember: New people, new insights.

Strengthen customer relations

I made my case about the conference being a place for new connections. But, a conference is also a good chance to reach out to your current business partners and customers. Consider inviting them along as a way to share new knowledge and trends in your field.

After the conference day, you might want to take the partner or customer out for dinner. Here, you can discuss the inputs of the day, and together figure out how you make the most of your new learnings.

Conference attendees

After the conference

Organize your new contacts and conversations

At the conference, you will hopefully meet someone you can’t live without (in your work life, that is). Make sure you don’t have to.

When the last speaker’s mic has been detached, the stage light is turned off and the doors closed, it’s time for you to jump on LinkedIn and connect with your new contacts.

Didn’t catch their full name? You might find them by searching for the conference hashtag. For Native Advertising Days 2024 it’s going to be #NativeAdDays24. Perhaps the person you're searching for joined the conversation on SoMe?

When you get in touch, lean into a conversation, for example by continuing your last conversation from a lunch session. Maybe you’ve found new perspectives or references to the subject.

Plan how to follow up

Many speakers refer to research, statistics and relevant websites in their presentations. As you attend their session you might think to yourself “I have to look this up when I get home!”.

What happens all too often, however, is that everyday life hits when getting back to the office. All the good intentions are left to rot in the drawer and those inspiring inputs are gone.

Therefore: Plan how to follow up. By scheduling an hour or two in the calendar on the day you are back at the office, you'll have the chance to go over the key takeaways from the conference.

Pass on your learnings to your team

New knowledge is always good. As I started out saying, this is actually a great expectation for conference attendees.

If your colleagues didn’t get the chance to go, share your new knowledge from the conference with them.

Invite them for a meeting where you go through your five key takeaways, your favourite speaker, and tools you think will be useful for your company.

Make plans now to attend the next edition of Native Advertising Days in Copenhagen, June 12-13. With +400 conference attendees and 40+ speakers, you are guaranteed to meet new, inspiring people!

NOTE: This post was originally published on September 3, 2018 and was updated on February 23, 2024.