Guest Post by Joel Barker – Joel is President & Owner of Backpack Tactics, LLC – IT solutions for your business and home. Follow Joel on Twitter: @joelbarker | @backpacktactics

Spring conference season is here!

It’s okay that the daily breakfast taco was the highlight of my conference trip to Austin, TX, right? In truth, there were many highlights – but according to my twitter feed, it was clearly my mission to consume mass quantities of tacos.

Between all the sessions, exhibits, lunches, and networking, how can you get the most out of your conference experience?

It’s up to you to decide what you’ll take away from a conference. The presentation lineup is out of your control, but the experience is all on you.

Getting the most out of your upcoming conference

Presentations & Sessions

A few weeks ago I was at the South by Southwest conference. I knew from attending the previous year that it would be impossible to attend even half the sessions I wanted. I also knew that even if a topic is interesting to me, a poor presenter can make a session very unfulfilling.

Knowing all this, I mapped out my top three sessions for each hour. There were a few times I attended my second choice session simply because it was near my third choice. This afforded me the ability to assess the first five minutes and if it appeared to offer less than I had hoped, I could duck out and make it to the other (third choice) session.

Following the presentation itself, I find it just as valuable to connect with the people who asked questions during Q&A. So often others will ask questions I have, or will raise points I had not considered. Seeking these people out right after the session often results in the best conversations of the day.

Exhibit booths

It can be overwhelming to interact with so many vendors trying to sell products and services, but it can also be extremely productive. The key is to go into the exhibit hall with a strategy.

Take a few minutes before walking around to review the list of vendors; or even better, review it online before the conference. Think about the next 12-24 months at your nonprofit. Is there a possibility you’ll be changing accounting software? Needing a fundraising firm or consultant for a capital campaign? Or needing to increase your social media exposure? Network with the firms that may be options for the future.

By thinking long-term you can learn a lot more about products and services in person than by just visiting a website.

Be there

Networking is perhaps the greatest benefit from attending a conference. There are always a lot of networking opportunities. Showing up a few minutes before a presentation and introducing yourself to other attendees is a great way to meet people who are interested in similar topics.

Then there’s the usual networking opportunities during session breaks, lunch, and happy hours. Collect business cards when you can. After a conference I like to take my stack of business cards and add all of those people to LinkedIn. At first, I did this because I preferred having an electronic catalog “rolodex” in one central location. I soon discovered an additional benefit was being able to see the posts and articles these new connections share.

Have fun

If you’re attending for work, you’re probably getting paid to spend a day away from your desk to learn new things. Enjoy it and smile. Don’t be afraid to explore new topics and soak up all the information you can.

Photo Credit: Joel Barker