The Official Checklist to Max Out Your Conference Experience - Amber Hurdle | Globally Recognized Leadership & Personal Branding Expert

The Official Checklist to Max Out Your Conference Experience

August 07, 2018

If you decide to invest in attending a conference, then you want to make sure that your time and energy investment aren’t wasted. I’ve heard from so many people who went to a conference and didn’t feel as though they got their money’s worth. While it is true that an event can be terribly run, most of the time people don’t find value because a) they didn’t prepare properly for the event, and b) they weren’t intentional about only attending events that meet their goals (that’s for another post). You need to be strategic to get the most out of the events you attend. Follow these tips before, during, and after the event and you’ll always get the best return for your time and money after attending a conference or event.

Before the Event

Determine your goal for the event. Whether your goal is to connect with a certain speaker at the event, build relationships with 10 new people, or uplevel your skills in your specific industry, it’s important to be specific and write down your goal for the event. This will help make sure your actions during the event are in alignment with your goal.

Research speakers and other attendees. Oftentimes events will have a Facebook group for the event; if not, you can use the power of hashtags to find out who is attending. Once you have a list of people attending, make a list of 5-7 people you would like to connect with during the event (including speakers, panelists, and attendees). This should be strategic! Connect with people who will be of benefit to your network and align with your business. Then do some research and capture interesting things about them, including common interests and mutual connections. Craft one to two questions for each person, so that when you meet, you don’t get flustered and resort to a conversation starter about the weather.

Make a game plan. Before you attend the event, take a close look at the conference schedule and select the speakers, panel sessions, events, etc. that you have to attend in order to reach your goal. Then select the sessions that you would like to attend but aren’t critical to achieving your goal. It’s important to not over-schedule yourself, but conversely, you don’t want to miss an important session due to poor planning.

Prepare your intro and conversation starters. If you tend to be an awkward person (like me), it’s important to prepare your intro as concisely as possible – no one wants to hear you ramble –  and have a few questions on hand for conversation starters. You want your questions to be interesting, so avoid the generic, “So what do you do?” Instead, ask, “Are you working on anything you are passionate about right now?” or “What do you need help with?” or “What speaker have you enjoyed best so far?”

Plan a dinner for attendees and/or speakers. I learned from Jayson Gaignard, author of Mastermind Dinners, that one of the best ways to maximize your time at a conference is to host a dinner during the event. You can host a dinner to connect with attendees you don’t know, nurture relationships with people you already know, or connect with speakers. Doesn’t have to be too extravagant, just use this as an opportunity to network with other attendees.

During the Event

Know yourself. It’s important to know what you need in order to have the energy to make the most of the event. For me, I need at least 7 hours of sleep or I get painful headaches. You won’t see me out late at the karaoke bar with the other attendees, because if I do that then I won’t be my best self the next day. Know what you need and make sure that happens so that you can make the most of the event.

Take notes. I like to have a new notebook for each conference, and in addition to notes from sessions, I also take notes on the conversations I had. If someone told me about their book being published in a couple months, I’ll make a note of it. Or if someone mentioned a hobby, I’ll make a note of that too. Then, I can refer to these notes in future conversations to build relationships with the new members of my network.

Connect on social media. At the end of each conference day, I like to connect with people on social media  and send them a private message to say hello. It’s an easy way to create a lasting connection to refer to after the conference.

Stay at the host hotel. You could probably save money on an Airbnb, but I’ve always found it to be worthwhile staying at the host hotel. For me, 70% of the reason I attend conferences is for building and nurturing relationships, and that is a lot easier to do when you are staying at the hub of the event.

After The Event

Follow-up. If you haven’t connected with people on social media during the conference, do it immediately after the event. Take your notes and do something with them including scheduling a coffee date or putting notes into a CRM. Remember that person who is publishing a book in a couple months? See if you can pre-order the book now, or set a reminder in your calendar for a month from now. 

Create a plan. It is easy to be overwhelmed by all the content given at a conference. Organize your notes, and choose the top three things you want to implement. Create a plan on how you will put those into place in your business, and schedule times to check-in with yourself (or even better find an accountability partner from the event) about your progress.


*Bonus* Pro Tip: I often block times in my calendar before the event to prepare for the event, and I always block at least a half-day after the event for follow-up.

Events have a way of catapulting relationships and businesses if you are intentional and prepare. Just like most things in life, events are what you make of them.


About the Author

Emily Murnen

Wild Elm Events

Small Business Events

Emily Murnen is the founder of Branch Out Experiences – curated events that bring together established women entrepreneurs for community, growth, and adventure. She is also the founder of Wild Elm Events, an event planning company helping entrepreneurs create high-quality events. She has over 12 years experience in planning events from 10-1,000 people, and her passion is to help foster deeper connections and community through live events.

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