We're heading into one of those points in the calendar where you seemingly can't move for conferences and digital events. Between now and the start of the summer holidays you really are spoiled for choice when it comes to getting out of the office for some LAN - learning and networking.
Conferences are certainly high on my agenda right now – as co-chair of the CASE Europe Social Media and Community Conference, which takes place in Brighton at the end of this month (I’m confident we’ve pulled together a killer line-up and that our delegates are going to have a great couple of days). There’s also Net Natives' very own Online Education Conference, taking place on the 20th April, designed to help marketers transform their online offer.
But, shameless plugs aside, how exactly do you go about making the most of these events? Let’s face it, they can whizz by in a blur of sessions, coffee breaks, new faces and maybe even the odd glass of something alcoholic.
In short, they’re brilliant, but busy. This might sound silly, but to make the most of them you need a plan of attack*
*a metaphorical plan of attack I should say – don’t actually attack people at conferences, please!
With that in mind, and because everyone on the internet loves a listicle, here are my top 10 tips for getting the most out of digital events and conferences.
Be prepared and engage early
Most events these days have a hashtag, and there’s no reason why you should have to wait until the conference starts before you use it. Get posting to that tag ahead of time, find fellow delegates and start working out who you’d like to meet in real life. Also, seek out any speakers and start following them – or at least add them to a list. Chances are you’ll get a better understanding of what they’re about, which will probably help you think of some great questions to ask them.
Engage while you’re there too
It goes without saying to use the hashtag while you’re there too. Doing so will allow you to share your learning with your followers – which is a jolly nice thing to do. It will help when you come to review your notes post-conference to look back at what you tweeted. Also, I’m not going to lie; the hard-working conference organisers will love you forever.
Take good notes
Another pretty obvious one, but good note taking is an essential skill for any conference ninja. That doesn’t mean trying to transcribe every presentation word-for-word, and it doesn’t mean being *that* person who photographs every slide on their tablet. Listen to what the speaker is saying and pull out the key quotes and soundbites – I often treat my notes as tweets and try to keep them short and punchy. Also, write them down with an actual pen on actual paper. Seriously, you’ll remember something far better by capturing it on paper than on a screen.
Leave work at work
If you’re physically at a conference, but mentally back at the office because you can’t tear yourself away from your emails or you keep answering the phone, then there’s really no point in you being there. Your boss should have just sent Sarah instead of you because at least she damned well pays attention and learns something. Put your out-of-office on and worry about your inbox when you’re back at work…or, if you have to, resolve only to sneak a peek during coffee breaks.
Leave your co-workers too
If Sarah or any other of your co-workers are attending the conference with you, that’s great, but don’t spend all your time with them. Divvy up the agenda between yourselves, go to different sessions and then swap notes afterwards. It will force you to pay attention and take good notes during the sessions you attend, safe in the knowledge that Sarah is in the parallel session getting some awesome notes for you in return.
Get out of your comfort zone
I’ll level with you. I am a massive introvert. At conferences, I love being in sessions, sat listening to a speaker and taking notes, but the prospect of a ‘networking refreshment break’ fills me with dread. I want nothing more than to grab a tea, grab a biscuit, grab my phone from my pocket and pretend like I’m checking my work email when I’m actually on Buzzfeed finding out my dream career is based on my favourite pizza toppings.
But, I don’t do this. I extrovert. I talk to people. I swap contact details, I shake hands, I smile, and I contribute. And, do you know what? It’s way better. Sure, it means I often need a bit of downtime later in the day once the sessions are over, but if I hadn’t put myself out of my natural comfort zone, then I would have missed out on meeting some of the very best people in my LinkedIn connections. Be bold and push yourself!
With all that contributing to the hashtag, following speakers and engaging with fellow delegates you’re going to be doing, you’re going to be using plenty of your device’s juice. Minimise the risk of the total drain by keeping your charger on you.
Scribble on business cards
If I were ever going to allow myself to refer to something like a ‘ninja tip’, then it would be this; when you get given a business card by someone you meet at a conference, jot down something you spoke about, with that person, on the back of their card. It could be the topic they just presented about, the project you got chatting about over coffee or, like I experienced at a conference last year, the fact that the person I was chin-wagging with used to be in a power metal band. Not only will it help jog your memory of who that person is, but it will also make you seem like you have the memory to rival an elephant when you follow up with them post-event.
Speaking of which…
Follow up within a week
Don’t leave it too long to follow up with your new contacts – usually, I’ll hop onto LinkedIn on my first day back in the office and send out some new connection requests. And, using the notes you handily scribbled on their business cards, you can really personalise your requests and give a great impression of yourself.
Blog about the event afterwards
This is, without a doubt, one of my favourite things to do after a conference and is a great way to solidify what you learned at the event; write up your experience at the event as a blog post. It doesn’t even have to be continuous prose – I tend to turn my posts into lists of points or quotes summarised as a single sentence. Blogging your experience is not only a great way for you to reflect on what you learned, but it’s also something you can share with colleagues who perhaps weren’t lucky enough to attend that event. Share a link to your post with them, share your knowledge with them and give whoever paid for you to attend more bang for their buck.
Hope that helps! If you have any killer tips of your own, then do share them in the comments below.