A few years ago, I attended two back to back conferences. The first was a book marketing workshop sponsored by the BK Author’s Co-op in SF followed by the National Speakers Association conference in Washington, D, C. As I started to review my notes and highlight those actions I planned to take I realized that I have learned some other important lessons about how to “do” conferences.
Here are five strategies that work for me. Perhaps some of these ideas will be useful to you.
1. Prepare – Ask yourself what your purpose is when attending. I wanted to connect with old colleagues, learn about new trends (ex. doing video blogging) and meet with new vendors. I set up a few dinners and a breakfast but didn’t go overboard with planning. This ensured that I could see the people I wanted to see while still remaining spontaneous.
But I also leave slack time for other spontaneous happenings. I was privileged to learn about a jam session with top-notch performers like Freebo and Mike Rayburn. A small band of fans gathered in an empty ballroom and grooved to these “virtuosos”, a term that Mike uses in describing people at the top of their game.
I also sketched out a schedule of programs I wanted to attend. That allowed me to get to the room early and ensured I got a seat for popular sessions.
2. Pace Yourself – Conferences can be grueling for introverts and even extroverts. I met one colleague who was so overstimulated it took her hours to fall asleep. Get your rest, eat as well as possible and exercise – even a few stretches in your room are helpful. I also know my sweet spot for conference attendance. After 72 hours on my butt inside a hotel with few outside breaks, I am ready to break out of hotel prison. I missed one of the banquets because I left early but I find those pretty much a yawn anyway and can socialize in other ways.
3. Connect in The Corridor – At the NSA conference, walking around the hallways during sessions can be a walk down a hall of fame in the speaking world. Jeannie Robertson, Robert Bradford, and Alan Stevens were some of my encounters that year. I gained a usable nugget from each one of them. Those brief “stop and chats” have been priceless and make a huge difference in my biz and life.
4. Be Nice to Newcomers – I hate cliques but can sometimes be guilty of leaving newcomers out of the conversation. I am glad that at NSA all newcomers have a ribbon with “VIP” on it to help them realize how important they are. I learned so much from people as I came into the field and am happy to share my experience with them. Mentoring VIP’s also helps me to chart my own progress. I was able to facilitate a discussion about speaking at the Author’s workshop and could recognize my own professional growth by giving away some of my experience.
5. Leave the Husband at Home – Through a long marriage, Bill and I both have realized that one of our winning strategies is to make space away from each other as well as together. I travel for my annual conference extroverted energy boost. He gets to enjoy solitude to his heart’s delight. When Bill picks me up at the train station after my trips he does seem more relaxed. I spill out my stories on the 10-minute ride home and he listens patiently. So conferences give opposites much-needed respites from each other.
So consider how you can “do conferences” to play to your own energy needs and get the most out of those days away from home.