Conference attendance is an example of a networking event that is a key aspect of continuing education and networking throughout the year. However, industry conferences can also be a hefty investment for organizations that choose to send employees.
To that end, organizations should take the steps necessary to ensure that those members of their team in attendance make the most of their time and the organization’s investment.
Perhaps the most important advice to give team members on their way to an industry conference or event is to leave work at the office. For management, making sure that employees will be focusing only on the events taking place at the conference can be as simple as ensuring that they do not pile on additional projects during conference attendance. While it may be tempting to give employees assignments to complete during travel time or conference downtime, this may ultimately impede their time at the event.
Employers should also encourage attendees to limit their use of technology to conference-related events.
“With technology, it is too easy to sit through a wonderful keynote and hear none of it because you are checking email, sending emails, looking at the news, texting, reading voicemail transcriptions or downloading apps,” said Joshua Steimle, CEO of MWI, a search engine optimization (SEO) firm, and author of Don Loper, a blog dedicated to business and entrepreneurship, web design and SEO optimization. “However, technology can also enhance conference experiences by allowing attendees to take better notes, record video, take photos and instantly share key thoughts and ideas with those at the office, which might have otherwise forgotten before getting back to the office.”
However, for those who can’t muster the discipline to pay attention, Steimle recommends encouraging them to leave the gadgets at the office or in the hotel room.
Before conference attendance, it is also important to ensure that all team members in attendance have a strong plan of action, which includes preparing for networking events, Q&A sessions and whatever else may come their way.
“It's all too easy to rush to a conference and not look at the agenda until arriving. Then, too late, one notices that they haven't brought the right business cards, or a certain printout, or a gift,” said Steimle. “By planning ahead, one can ensure that they have the necessary tools. They can also have questions ready for question and answer sessions, rather than just coming up with something in the moment, which may or may not be the most important question you need answered.”
While it should not be necessary to walk through the conference agenda with team members, give them a gentle nudge to look things over and prepare for any opportunities that may come their way. During this time, employers should also brief team members on the desired outcomes from networking events and provide them with useful tips on enhancing their networking skills.
For example, Steimle recommends that conference attendees utilize networking opportunities to learn about others rather than dish about themselves.
“There is a strong temptation to tell everyone about you when networking. Somehow you feel like you've got to slip in something about what you do here and there, because maybe, just maybe, someone will hear it and you'll end up with a deal,” said Steimle. “Try this next time you're in a networking situation—forget yourself and your business and focus entirely on whomever you're speaking with. When you do think about something other than what the person is telling you, think about to whom you could introduce the person you're speaking with in a way that might foster a mutually beneficial relationship.”
Finally, employers should go over expected outcomes from conference attendance, as providing team members with an overall goal will ensure they plan appropriately and absorb the most beneficial information.
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