9 tips to make the most of conference visits

Written by | February 23, 2016 | Posted in Museums, News & Culture

With 2016 well underway, we are gearing up for this year’s round of museum conferences. Our team learned so much at the Museums on the Web and Museum Computer Network conferences last year, we can’t wait to see what this year has in store.

Now that we’ve got a couple of of these great experiences under our belt, we’re putting together a game plan to make sure we get the most of our conference visits this time around. With all of our internal planning, I thought to share some tips that anyone preparing for a few days of learning and networking could use…

Set a goal for your experience

While your attendance to this year’s conference(s) may be a no-brainer, your reason for going should be supported by more than the “because everybody else will be there” rationale. Set a goal for your experience and define action items you’ll take to meet that goal. For example, if your goal is to expand your network, you can set an action item to make introductions and collect business cards of at least 10 people. Or if your goal is to learn more about a specific technology, you can set an action item to get seven different opinions/recommendations. Setting a goal and defining the action items you’ll take to meet it will make the return on your visit more tangible.

Define your #QTNA

(aka “questions that need answers”)
Beyond setting a goal, prepare for your conference by writing down a list of questions you hope to get answers to. Whether it’s a direct question about which social media networks to use, or a question to poll your peers on a preferred methodology, having a list of questions that you can ask to fellow industry folk is a great planning tool to get the most out of your conference visit.

Do your research

Do some research to get the scoop on topics of discussion, speakers and other attendees (check the website, follow relevant hashtags, etc). Ask for recommendations on speakers and sessions. Is there an organization you really want to know more about? Get on the radar of reps within that organization and let them know you’re interested in connecting at the main event. Reach out to folks you’ve met in previous years to see if they will be there. Doing this type of research and making connections beforehand can help ensure you attend the most valuable presentations and get time to engage with the folks you want to interact with most.

Don’t go alone

Not only is it great to have a travel buddy, but having at least one other person to tackle your conference with can make all the difference for what you get out of it. Multiple people enable you to get insights from a variety of speakers and workshops, and also help you to work the crowd.

Likewise, if you have multiple people in attendance, one person can be the designated online engagement person while other folks focus on the people in the room. Which brings me to my next point…

Sign off and tune in

Unless you’re the designated social[media]lite, your attention should be on the people and presentations in front of you. No checking email, no texting, no Facebook and no Instagram. You didn’t pay for registration fees, plane tickets and hotel rooms to have your nose in your phone. Use this opportunity to chat with all the like-minded people around you. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t hurt to join the online conversation from time to time, but don’t let social media dominate your attention. You’ll be able to recap trending hashtags after the fact, but you won’t be able to make up for lost face-to-face interaction.

Meet new people

Engage with your peers in a meaningful and impactful way

Successful execution of my previous tip will help with this one. If you traveled to the conference with team members, that’s great – just don’t let them be the only people you talk to. Spread your wings and mingle. Go to the party! This is your opportunity to meet new people and get new perspectives. Use your time at the conference and the after-hours festivities to connect and engage with your industry peers in a meaningful and impactful way.

Don’t be afraid to change your mind

If you find yourself in a workshop or talk that’s not exactly what you thought it would be, don’t be afraid to exit stage left and find something that offers more substance. You came to learn and to gain new insights that you can use, and there’s nothing wrong with making sure that’s what you get out of your experience.

Share information with your team members who didn’t go

share with your team

While you don’t want to make your team jealous of the great time they missed out on, you do want to loop them in on all the new things you learned. Any effort to build morale around whatever project, initiative or goal that drove you to go to the conference will only be supported by the whole team if you include them as much as possible.

Define next steps

You’ve gone to the conference, learned a ton of stuff and told your team about it. Now what? Whether it’s making email introductions with the original owners of the business cards you collected or getting serious about the proposal you’re putting together to get funding, there should be a clearly defined next step. You should translate your findings into actionable items you can take to improve your organization – after all, isn’t that why you went to the conference in the first place?

I hope these suggestions are helpful! What other ways do you prepare for conferences? Tweet us @Cuberis and let us know. In the meantime, we’ll be prepping for mingling and presenting at Museums on the Web (yep, you read that right, we’re presenting)!