Remember the feeling you get after you ski all day or play a whole day of touch football or volleyball? That feeling of being completely exhausted but satisfied and rested at the same time? That’s how I feel after I go to a conference in my industry.
I’m completely overwhelmed by the fire hose of new thinking and new ideas that I come away with. At the same time refreshed and reinvigorated and ready to attack my work with resolve and energy.
One of the reasons that I know that I love the digital marketing and publishing business that has consumed my life for the last sixteen years is that I always have an incredibly fun and inspirational time when I go to a conference. I love the people. I love the sense of intensity and innovation that I find. And, nope, l’m not ashamed to admit that I love the contests and the parties just as much.
A good professional conference can be the ultimate awesome game changer for your career. There is no better way that can you put your real job in the drawer for a couple of days, change the scenery (get out of town) and immerse yourself in the people and the future of your profession.
First, you have to find a conference that meets your needs. Who are the speakers you want to hear? Where would you like to travel to? (You might as well go somewhere fun) Are friends and colleagues in your industry also going to be there? Could you set up interviews in conjunction with the conference? As always, the web is your best way to sniff out the right conference for you.
Hear leaders in your chosen industry talk about what is going on right now and what will be going on in the future. Try to absorb. Email important ideas to yourself or your boss on the spot.
Most conference panel sessions and even some keynote sessions encourage participation. Get in line with your questions. This is your chance to look smart in front of your entire industry. (Just make sure that you don’t make yourself the focus of your question.)
Meet future employers:
Some of the best conference conversations happen randomly between sessions and in hotel lobbies. Every single person attending the conference is fascinated by the subject matter or they would not be there. So, there are no bad discussions or stupid questions. You never know when you might be talking to your next boss.
Conference are popular because it’s pretty hard these days to stay up to date in any field by sitting at your desk reading weeks old news in trade magazines. Conferences and trade shows are first and foremost about new stuff; new ideas, new products, new services and new people. Soak it all in.
A conference is not a high school dance. Everyone gets a nametag. Everyone is there to meet people and find new ideas. People at conferences and conventions want to meet whether you are a leading CEO or an energized newbie. Always say hi!
If you’ve done your conference right, you will come home with several dozen business cards. These contacts can help you jumpstart a wide ranging network in your field. One tip: Find time to follow up with the week after the conference. You’ll forget what you talked about and a potentially helpful career contact will end up in a stack of dust gathering unused business cards.
Fun and games rule at conferences. Beyond the serious stuff in the conference hall, there are usually dozens of promotional parties going on at night. Large companies often have contests and concerts at clubs and restaurants nearby. It’s a great way to meet people.
Get swag for your kids:
What would a trade show be if you didn’t come home with a bag full of swag? T-shirts, logo candy boxes, Angry Birds, you name it, they’ve got it. No kids? No problem. T-shirts for life and conversation starting desk ornaments are yours for. . . well, until next year.
Those in the know make it their business to be seen at three to four conferences every year. For many serious and accomplished but fun-loving professionals, the conference circuit is like summer camp. They can’t wait to get back to Austin or LA or Las Vegas or New York to catch up with their friends and colleagues, to be speakers and panelists and students, to find out what’s new and have three days of unrelenting learning, socializing and stimulation and still call it work.
Do you attend a conference a year? How have you benefited from them?
I’m a freelance web designer. I haven’t attended any conference as yet. Any recommendations?