Written by:Roxanne Sutton, NRPA Marketing and Communications Specialist, with content used with permission from MultiBriefs.
They say you get what you give. And while I’ve applied this mantra to most of my life (work hard and you’ll get that “A”), I hadn’t really thought of it in terms of professional conferences. This year will be my first at NRPA’s Congress and Exposition in Houston and while my schedule will certainly be determined by staffing needs and social media opportunities, that doesn’t mean I can’t dig in a little more to make the most of my time. Whether it’s deciding which sessions I really want to live tweet from (be sure you’re following @NRPA_News and #NRPACongress!) or making time to meet with NRPA members, planning ahead can help get that “A” as a professional conference attendee.
With so much to do at Congress – from hundreds of educational sessions, to an amazing expo hall (which I can’t WAIT to see for myself), to valuable networking opportunities – you may not know how to best develop your plan for the three days.
In an article written by Dave Bowman, Director of Partner Relations at MultiView, he provides some great suggestions on making the most of NRPA’s Congress and Exposition as well as all your professional conferences.
Make the most of your time at NRPA's Congress with these 5 tips
“There will be lots of thought-provoking educational sessions, but are they applicable to you and your organization? Before looking at the schedule, think about your current goals and challenges. Consider the aspects of your industry where you're already strong versus those where you could use a little help.
Are you being tasked with new responsibilities for which you need new knowledge? Is there an initiative you want to propose, but need more supporting evidence? Most presenters will cover successes and some will even talk about their shortfalls. Learn from the victories and mistakes of others, and target your learning to the areas where you need it most. Once you've checked those boxes, go ahead and plug a "life skills" session into your schedule.”
Do Your Research
“Once you've identified the topics you want to focus on, read the descriptions and speaker bios thoroughly, just to make sure you're on target and that the speakers or panelists have backgrounds that fit your needs. If the topic is right, but the examples are not relevant to you, you may not get as much out of the session.
Also, review speakers' websites, social media sites, etc. If their bio says they've previously spoken at the conference you're attending, ask colleagues if they've ever heard the speaker before. The more insight you have into the speakers, the easier it will be to determine if their session will be of value to you.”
“If you're attending the conference with a colleague (or colleagues) from your office, see if you can coordinate with them to cover more sessions that will benefit your entire organization. This is especially helpful when there are simultaneous sessions that you need to attend. Divide and conquer. Get the handouts, take good notes, and then get together at the end of the day (while it's all still fresh in your mind) to share what you've learned.”
Have an Expo Plan of Attack
“We all like wandering the show floor and collecting tchotchkes (and even cocktails!) from the vendors, but the exhibit hall may only be open for a few hours during the entire program. If you need to visit with someone about new software, select new equipment for your facility or find a developer who can build your new customer database for you, you'll need to use your time wisely.
As with selecting which sessions to attend, review the exhibitor list on the conference website before you leave your office and research the vendors that focus on the areas where you need help. You may even want to contact them in advance and set up a time and place to meet at the show. Either way, try to connect with the vendors you need to see on the first day of the expo. Then, you can leisurely stroll the floor and fill your goody bag with key chains and stress balls on day two.”
Don't Be Shy
“Still not getting the answers you need from the sessions? You can bet your next paycheck others at that meeting have information that could help you. Many conferences offer lunch in the expo hall each day. Take advantage of their generosity and, when you go, seek out people you don't know to sit with. Attend any evening events and mingle actively. Strike up conversations and, if your new BFFs seem willing to let you, pick their brains. It's fun and who couldn't use a few more friends and professional connections?
In addition to gaining information that can help you at work, there's one other key benefit to making new association friends. While you might be perfectly happy in your current position now, you never know when you might get that wandering feeling and want to look for the next stop on your career path. The professional network you form at professional conferences can be very valuable to you today and in the years to come.”
Editor’s Note: What is your pre-conference planning regimen? What advice would you give to first time attendees? Leave a comment below or tweet it at us @NRPA_News with the the hashtag #NRPACongress.