Business leaders need to stay ahead of industry trends and focus heavily on their own professional growth. To achieve this goal, many individuals attend conferences, which are a great way to learn about recent developments, build new relationships, and even share insights with the professional community. This year, a number of excellent business leadership conferences have already been scheduled, including the Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum, the Tugboat Institute Summit, the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit, the Forbes Women’s Summit, and the TED Conference. While attending these events is a great way to acquire new skills and boost your career, individuals need to be strategic about the conferences that they attend and what they do once there. The following are some key tips for making the most of a leadership conference:
1. Be aware of the various speakers and attendees.
To make the most of a conference, business leaders need to do some legwork before they attend. Most importantly, they should find out who is speaking and the colleagues whom they might run into while there. Conferences are a great networking opportunity, as they provide an ideal setting to reinforce a relationship that has already been built or to build new ones. Leaders should not rely primarily on serendipity to connect with other professionals. While opportunities to network sometimes occur randomly, the best leaders ensure that they set meetings beforehand, whether that means before the conference even starts or over the course of the event.
2. Attend conferences that align with your goals.
While some people attend leadership conferences without specific goals in mind, individuals should have a clear idea of what they want to accomplish through the event. Whether this means developing new business relationships or addressing a specific weakness, an understanding of the underlying goals will make it easier to pick and choose the ideal conference. These events post their agendas well in advance so that leaders can see exactly what the different focuses of the talks will be. If networking is the primary goal, perhaps it would make sense to choose an event that is likely to have the largest audience and thus the greatest number of opportunities to connect. Often, conferences are an ideal way to gain a perspective on different aspects of a business. For example, leaders who lack extensive knowledge of technology may want to attend a tech conference so that they become more well-rounded.
3. Mingle as much as possible at the event.
Sometimes, individuals have a tendency not to reach out to the people around them even when they are surrounded by brilliant minds. People may spend their breaks with their noses in their cellphones rather than shaking hands and saying hello. In some ways, attending a conference should be like a vacation. People at the office should be put in charge of important processes with orders to only contact their leader in the event of an emergency. Doing so relieves some of the pressure of having to keep in touch with what is happening at the office and enables leaders to be more present at the conference. Furthermore, talking about the sessions with others during breaks is the best way to get the most out of those talks. Another important tip is to change seats regularly. People are creatures of habit and will tend to sit in the same spot once they choose one on the first day. To keep meeting new people, individuals should move around after each session.
4. Look for opportunities for greater visibility.
Business leaders should always seek out opportunities to improve their visibility at a conference. While the most obvious way to do so is to become a speaker or presenter, many other opportunities exist at a typical conference. For example, individuals can volunteer to serve on a committee that will spearhead a particular part of a conference. People are also needed to facilitate sessions and moderate panels. Undertaking these small tasks can help leaders to obtain recognition and build relationships more organically. Furthermore, they are a great way for leaders to establish themselves as a major voice in the industry.
5. Follow up on conversations.
One of the biggest mistakes that business leaders can make when it comes to attending conferences is failing to follow up on conversations that they had with other attendees. Whenever possible, leaders should exchange business cards with the people they meet and then follow up with a brief email, text, or phone call after the conference. This small step will solidify the connection and open up the lines of communication for further discussion down the road. In addition, individuals should not hesitate to reach out to members of a panel or other presenters, especially to ask for clarification, share further insights, or to thank them for their unique perspective. These small gestures can lay the foundation for further conversations down the line.