Don’t Be a Wallflower. Engage. Connect.
I recently returned from speaking at the BC Communications Forum in Vancouver. While I am a big fan of conferences (not just as a speaker but also as an attendee), I know there are two sides to this camp – those who love them and those who think they’re a waste of time.
If you hate conferences, I won’t try and change your mind. Just stop reading and go check your Twitter feed. But if you’re on the fence, or love conferences, here are some tips to get the most out of the experience.
Seriously, if you’re going to go through the effort of signing up for the conference, clearing your work schedule, paying the money and getting to the event, why not be present? While this may seem obvious, sadly it is not. As a regular conference speaker, I can safely say at least 10% of the people in the room are not present.
These are the people who have their laptops or phones out but are not taking notes about the great nuggets of information from the speakers. Rather they are responding to work emails, writing a report or checking their social media. This happens to be a big pet peeve of mine as a speaker. What it says to me is you don’t value yourself enough to invest in your professional development.
Meet New People
Pet peeve #2 – sitting with people you work with (seriously, why??) or exclusively talking to people you already know. Here’s the beauty of conferences – meeting people with different backgrounds, experiences and from different parts of the country.
I’ve made some incredible people by sitting with complete strangers. Some of these relationships have resulted in consulting work while others have evolved into personal friendships. If I had only sat with people I know, I would never have made the personal connections that have advanced my career.
Mix it Up
At a lot of conferences, there is an opportunity for a dine-around at night. I know it can be tempting to grab some food, eat in your room and catch up on work. But once again you’re missing out on one of the best parts of a conference – meeting and interacting with new people.
The lunch or supper portion of a conference, is as equally important as (fully) listening to the speakers. This is where the true professional development, sharing and learnings happen. It’s a chance to dig a bit deeper and discuss the topics raised by the speakers. What did you think about XX? Have you experienced XX in your organization? How did you respond?
I have often had the greatest aha moments or takeaway learnings from these engaging discussions. And really, it is much more interesting than spending the lunch hour on my phone or eating supper alone in my hotel room.
As a speaker, it’s the kiss of death to end your talk to pure silence. If no one is asking questions, I often think the information I was presenting had little value to them. A dozen insecurities race through my head, all the while staring out into a sea of faces.
I’ve learned over the years many people don’t ask questions because they have a fear of public speaking. Or they are waiting for someone else to ask the first question. Have you ever been to a conference where no one has a question, then when the presenter is about to walk away, one person asks a question and is quickly followed by another 10 questions?
Make a point of asking a question. This will not only spark the conversation, but will also endear you to the speaker (making you memorable).
I hope these tips help you get more out of the next conference you attend. After all, if you’re going to invest the time and money, why not get the most out of your experience? And as a speaker, it makes all the difference to our experience as well.
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