Learning and growing from Internet resources and connections is powerful. You can watch a YouTube video learn a new knot for putting on neckties, read a tutorial about Microsoft Excel and seek inspiration from a TED presentation. I have done all three of those ideas. However, there’s a limit to what you can do with the Web.
Conferences remain one of the best ways to advance your career in a short period of time. Here are several people who transformed their careers and companies through conferences:
- John Lee Dumas, founder of Entrepreneur on Fire, launched his podcast by attending the BlogWorld conference in New York City in 2012. In 2013, Entrepreneur on Fire generated $101,000 in profit and has continued to grow significantly.
- Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, co-authors of the mega bestseller series of “Chicken Soup” books, found their publisher by participating at the American Booksellers Association convention in 1992. Since then, their books have sold millions of copies.
- Jennifer Lemerand launched her career by attending the HOW Design conference in 2007. By using a creative approach to make herself memorable, she soon obtained several promotions in the communications and advertising industry.
- The Portable Bar Company grew significantly through participating in trade shows, conventions and conferences.
As these examples show, it is possible to achieve fantastic results by participating in conferences, trade shows and other live events. Yet, many of us have attended conferences in the past with no results. Speaking for myself, I can think of at least two conferences I attended in the 2000s where I derived little or no tangible career benefits. That all changed in 2015 when I attended the World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon.
Here are five ways you can grow your career by attending a conference based on my experience.
1. Identify your top business or career goal.
Goals give your daily activities focus. Based on John Lee Dumas went to BlogWorld to start finding people to interview for his podcast. Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield went to a conference to find a publisher for their book. In my case, I set two goals. First, I wanted to learn how other people had built successful Internet companies (and apply these ideas to ProjectManagementHacks.com). Second, to enjoy and explore a new city I have not visited before.
Action: What is your top goal (or problem) that you are seeking to achieve?
2. Write a short list of conferences that relate to your goal
Once you have identified your goal, it is time to come up with a list of possible conferences to attend. As with many problems, a few Google searches will point you in the right direction.
Example: You are seeking to launch your career in New York City. By searching for the terms such as “New York conference” and related searches, I found the 99u Conference. If you are working on getting ahead as a project manager, I suggest the PMI Global Congress 2015.
Action: Spend 10-15 minutes doing Google searches to find relevant upcoming searches. Note that you may have to broaden your search to events outside of your city in some cases.
3. Do the conference pre-work
If you’re not presenting at a conference, the idea of conference pre-work may sound strange. What exactly do you need to prepare? In my experience, there are a few preparations to make.
- Incentives & Early Bird Promotions. Some conferences offer “VIP” tickets and other bonuses to people who register early. Whether or not such bonus incentives are offered, it is vital to register early.
- Write A Contact List. Write a list of people that you are interested in meeting at the conference. In my case, I was interested in meeting people delivering workshops, others interested in online courses, and productivity experts. I suggest starting small with 5-10 people on contact list. (Thanks for X, author of Y, for inspiring me to create a contact list.
- Save Up A Conference Budget. There’s a cost to attend conferences and get the most value out of them. Plan to spend money on restaurants, drinks, taxis and other expenses. In my case, I actually returned home with a surplus from the conference.
- Look For Small Groups. Attending a conference with hundreds or thousands of people is intimidating even if you are outgoing. After all, where do you start? That’s why there is such value in searching for small groups such as meetups, committees and other activities. If you are not sure where to begin, contact the conference organizers and ask for suggestions on where to find meetups and small groups related to your interests.
Action: Do the pre-work steps outlined in this section.
4. Talk To New People Every Day
Conversations and meeting new people is a key reason to attend conferences. Given that purpose, go out and introduce yourself! Most if not all conference attendees wear name badges which make introductions even easier.
- Note For Introverts: If you consider yourself to be an introvert like myself, this activity may feel a bit daunting. My recommendation in that case is to fall back on preparation and small goals. First, I used my contact list to arrange conversations with a few key people. Second, I set to start a conversation with a minimum of two new people per day. I strongly encourage you to watch The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain (it is a great TED talk and I also recommend her book, “Quiet” which I read this year).
Action: Commit to introduce yourself to at least one new person each day you are at the conference.
5. Take Advantage of the Post Conference High When You Get Home
Going to a conference is often an inspiring and energizing experience. You are full of new ideas, you may have enjoyed some great drinks and have a stack of business cards. On the trip home, you may feel exhausted and happy. What about a few days after you return home – how do you take advantage of the conference high?
Start with the following actions:
- Send a short email to the people you met at the conference.
- Send a note to the conference speakers you enjoyed.
- Review your notes from the workshops and other activities you participated in.
- Buy and read a book recommended by someone at the conference – I have a stack of books to read by speakers!
Now it is your turn to take action. What conference will you attend to grow your career this year? Conferences remain one of the best ways to grow your network, receive instruction from experts and set yourself apart from others in your field.
Action: Send an email or make a call to someone you met at the conference after you come home.
6. Write A Conference Report For Your Company
If your company or organization paid for you to attend a conference, you are very fortunate. The best way to repay the organization is to use information and connections from the conference to do your job better. In addition, I suggest writing a one page memo summarizing your key insights from the conference. You can then take this summary to your manager and offer to circulate it with the rest of the team.
Action: Write out a list of 10-20 bullet points of information and insights you gained from the conference.
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