Thu, Sep 1, 2011
I’ve been to a few conferences in my day, and while I’m certainly no rookie when it comes to events, the recent TalentNet Live event in Dallas (that’s #TNL for short), made me feel like that first SHRM event I ever attended, way back in the day. It was intellectual overload, and with so many awesome simultaneous sessions and networking opportunities all happening at once.
I felt a little like the only ant who showed up at the giant picnic, if you know what I mean (and will forgive the expression). There was just no way to absorb everything.
What I needed was a strategy. At #TNL, like all good conferences, there were so many great tricks of the trade, new social media tactics and recruiting strategies to learn, that advance planning is a prerequisite. After all, when you’ve got a mix of well known, accomplished presenters and attendees representing some of the most influential, and recognizable, global brands, it’s absolutely essential to balance the learning with the networking, the sessions with the sales calls, the personal from the professional.
And like a lot of folks who echoed similar sentiments at #TNL Dallas last Friday, I felt like not having a game plan left me feeling that while the conference was a huge success, my myopic focus on content instead of taking the time to meet, and get to know, the other attendees sitting in sessions beside me failed to give me the biggest bang for my conference buck.
So, with so much information to share, how do you fit it all in? I asked a dozen of my favorite presenters & personalities from #TNL Dallas to share their conference expertise and leverage their collective experience to help conference attendees avoid making the mistake of misplaced priorities.
“Network with others. Meet new people at the conference and build relationships to carry the great conversations further then the day of the event.”
“Anytime you see someone sitting or standing alone, walk over and say hello. Introduce yourself and ask them what they hope to get out of the conference. You’ll learn what you didn’t know you needed.”
“My advice for presenters: tell me what you’re going to tell me, tell me, then tell me what you told me” is crap. That’s not how brains work. Brains relate to story lines. At TNL, I tried to wrap a story around my content to bring it to life. I certainly got good feedback!”
“Ask. If you’re a speaker, ask questions. If you’re an attendee ask questions. If you’re not getting the answers you want, keep asking. If you are not understanding the value of the topic, keep asking. Oh, and one practical ‘asking’ tip: ASK if you don’t know where the bathroom is!”
“No matter what your role or function at a conference, treat everyone in the room as an honored guest and learn all you can about them. Plan to keep in touch. This lets you take the conference with you when you leave.”
“My advice is do not just hang out with someone you know and do not attend a session during every time slot. By making yourself available to talk to new people, you’ll come home with 5- 10 new contacts you can reach out to. Then, follow up with them so that the relationship begins to build. Non-business related conference advice…bring a jacket or sweater. Conferences are freezing!”
“A good way to maximize your conference impact is to invite people out to lunch during the lunch break or ask the host if they need help with anything. Usually they’ll need an extra hand doing something. A good way to make friends at a conference is bring an extra phone charger. Someone always forgets theirs.”
“1. Get organized and reach out to other attendees prior to the conference. 2. Introduce myself to the speaker before the session. 3. Ask the speaker if they have a hashtag they want personally in the tweets (if they care). 4. Follow up with people I meet at the conference (close the loop).”
“The group of people at the TNL Conference were awesome! I was there to be a speaker at the event; yet they needed help at the registration desk that morning. I jumped in & met so many people while signing them in that I have known virtually and could finally put names to faces. However, we’ve all met people at conferences that would benefit from putting their ego aside and volunteer to help out. There’s a lot going on and things happen; don’t have an attitude if everything is not laid out perfectly. Take a page from Kelly Valade, who spoke volumes about humility; it’s key. Slow your role & pitch in!”
“Not all recruiting advice (in fact, almost none of it) is one size fits all; use the sessions as an opportunity to get the big picture about issues, and use other attendees, and the speakers, as resources to drill down and get a better idea how these trends & tools can help meet your business needs. If you don’t get the opportunity there, don’t be afraid to follow up after the show. The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask!”
“It’s about meeting new people, hanging with people I already know, connecting folks, building my network, learning something new, getting out from behind my monitor, having thoughtful conversations, breaking bread, laughing (mostly at myself or some dumb $#!+ thing that I’ve done) (3), and having fun… that’s the formula for a good conference for me…”
Because getting the most out of a conference depends on what you’re trying to achieve, and that means when it comes to getting the biggest bang for your buck, it’s personal. But here’s my advice:
When you’re sitting in attendance on a session, it’s tempting to tweet out sound-bytes that resonated with you. There are certainly sessions where that’s fine; esp. those that are focused more on motivational topics. However, in sessions focused on teaching or educating you on a new topic or tool? Do yourself a favor and leave the smartphone/iPad/notebook shut.
Focus on taking notes & learning now; tweet later… & there’s some great tweets hanging out in the #TChat and #TNL stream from those that participated either ‘in-person’ or via the live stream.