Skills 360 – Getting the Most out of a Conference (2)

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Hello and welcome back to the Business English Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host Tim Simmons, and today I want to give you some more tips for getting the most out of a conference.

Some people see conferences as a way to get away from the office for a few days and take a break. And sure, it’s helpful to step back from the daily grind and learn something, or reflect on your work and business. But if you really want to get the most out of a conference, you should look at it as more than just a learning opportunity. I mean, if you’ve got hundreds or even thousands of people in one place looking to connect with others, it’s a golden opportunity for networking.

In our last lesson, I talked about conference preparation and gave you a list of things you should do during the conference. Today I want to give you some tips for after the conference, and share some “don’ts,” or things to avoid, during the conference.

My first tip is to not attend every session. Don’t feel like you’re missing out if you linger in the lobby or the hallways while others are in a workshop. Some of the best conversations happen outside the meeting rooms, when you’ve got some space and quiet time for really good discussion.

And this ties in with another thing to avoid: rushing. Any time you’re in a hurry, you’re closed to networking. So if you’re having a great conversation with a potential customer and you realize the presentation on “Soft Selling” is about to start, don’t dash off. Skip the presentation and focus on the opportunity at hand.

Now, I realize that conferences can be intimidating. We’ve all had that experience of walking into lunch on the first day and scanning the crowd for someone we know. Like a colleague or coworker. Someone safe and familiar. But safe and familiar is why we go home at night, not why we attend conferences. So don’t glom on to one person or your colleagues. That’s a waste. You need to spread yourself around. So at lunchtime, don’t look for familiar people. And don’t park yourself with a fellow wallflower. Instead, look for interesting, outgoing, or influential people. Ask them if you can join them, and get involved in the conversation.

After all, getting involved is what it’s all about. You need to appear “open for business,” so to speak. And to do that, there are a couple of other things you should avoid. For one, don’t spend too much time on your phone checking email or calling the office to see if the photocopier has been fixed yet. That’s not why you’re there. I realize it’s tempting to pull out your mobile any time you have a spare minute. But here’s a challenge for you: every time you want to look at your phone, talk to someone new instead.

This is not to say that your phone is useless. In fact, I’m about to tell you how you should use it. But first, here’s another don’t: don’t focus too much on business cards. I know that sometimes you judge your networking success by how many cards you got. But quality is more important than quantity. Besides, you can easily lose business cards. And then what do you have besides the memory of a face? So, if you’ve made a good connection, ask instead for the person’s mobile number or email and plug it directly into your phone. You might be thinking that you like to be able to write notes on the back of business cards. But did you realize that there’s space for notes in your phone contacts?

Those notes will come in handy later, after the conference, right? There’s no use getting someone’s contact info if you never contact them. So, a few days after the event, you should follow up with those people you talked to. Some people like to email everyone the first day after the conference. But right after a conference there’s usually a lot of different things competing for your time and attention. So, it’s more effective to wait a few days before following up.

What else should you do once a conference has finished? Well, if you’ve taken lots of notes, it’s a good idea to organize them. Or type them up. Reflect on what you learned, rather than getting swallowed back up by the daily grind right away. At a conference, you might be so overwhelmed by information that you can’t absorb it all. So taking the time afterward to review and reflect is an important part of getting the most out of your conference. And don’t think only of the benefits to yourself. It’s a great idea to pass on your what you learned to your colleagues. Organize a little workshop or presentation on your key takeaways. Use the ideas you encountered to generate discussion at your office.

All right, we’ve covered some important conference tips today. I’ve advised you against a few things like attending every session, rushing between talks, sticking to familiar people, and spending too much time on your phone. These are all things that can get in the way of networking. And after the conference, be sure to follow up with people and organize, or share, everything you learned.

That’s all for today. So long. And see you again soon.

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