"A conference is just an admission that you want somebody to join you in your troubles."
~ Will Rogers
Attending conferences is important for the knowledge that you gather but possibly even more important for the people that you meet.
As in most things in this world, you must plan how to attend any conference. If you feel that a conference was not worthwhile, you simply did not spend enough time planning a strategy to make it a successful event.
The strategy that seems to be the most effective is thinking of the conference as having two parts. The first part is networking and the second part is the education component. Each part requires a distinct different strategy.
Networking requires that you think carefully of whom you want to meet and spend time with at the conference. Frequently, the conference organizer will give you the name of each person planning on attending. From this list you need to cull out 5 or 6 names and then send them emails about two weeks before the conference to set up times to meet. While you may not be able to meet all six because of scheduling by doing this ahead of time you will insure in setting up meetings with the majority of these folks.
Another thing to do is to attend any golf or tennis tournaments that are part of the pre-confer
ence. These are great ways to meet new people that could have potential benefits to you and your company.
Handing out a trillion business cards is not really as productive as trying to get cards from people who might be able to add value to you or your business. While getting a card is important it is just a small part in establishing a relationship with another individual. Try to meet three or four strangers at conferences but get to know them well.
Some great questions to encourage dialogue with a person you do not know well would be, "What made you get into the business you are in," or "How would I know how to recommend some one to your company?" Try to go out of your way to meet and get to know people that you just do not know.
One of the easiest things to do at a conference is to only associate with your friends or acquaintances. However, that really does not expand your networking opportunities, which is one of the most important parts of conferences.
With education, do a thorough analysis of session topics and speakers that you would like to attend. Try to set up meetings with some of the speakers if you would like to know about their topic(s). Most speakers are more than willing to make time for these "short" meetings.
If, however, there are no good sessions, then do not go to a session instead use your time to network. There will always be people around the coffee and food you can talk to.
One last thing about conferences is to avoid drinking if you can. Too often people do things that they regret that affect both them and their company when they consume too much alcohol.
Now go out make sure you have a plan developed for each conference that you or staff attends.
Jerry Osteryoung, the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.