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5 Ways to Make The Most of A Professional Conference

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A few weeks ago, I jetted over to the west coast to a super cool conference called Create & Cultivate in Los Angeles. It’s a one day event full of highly-curated workshops, panels and mentor sessions.

In between events there were rooms and rooms jam-packed in a pop-up market style with the best of the best companies, showing off their newest foods, good and events. From 8am to almost 9pm, I sat next to and listened to the best new and veteran female entrepreneurs on the planet, like Susan Tynan, Founder and CEO of Framebridge, Super Goop founder Holly Thugard, and Alex Friedman co-founder LOLA. They dished on the great parts of their job, but also the hard, ugly, non-instragammable parts of running a business. It was refreshing and wonderful to hear that even these super successful women fail and have to start over. Oh, and Kim Kardashian and Chrissy Teigen were there, too.

While every conference is run differently, there are a few tips and tricks I learned during Create & Cultivate that will make your life better for a long day of learning to help you to get the most out of your conference experience.

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Do Your Homework

The key to a successful conference is preparing before it even starts.

Almost every conference will share who is speaking on their website. Look them up. Follow them on social media. If it’s a conference where you get a variety of speakers to choose from at any given time, this is a great way to make sure you’re heading to a speaker who is most interesting to you.

Print out the schedule. It’s so much easier than pulling it up on your phone over and over, plus wi-fi can be spotty at some conferences, especially in hotels. You’ll be so glad to have this tucked in your purse.

Arrive Early

Get to know the layout of the event space. You’ll be able to cruise through the hallways with tons of people between sessions, but know right where you’re headed.

Getting there early also means a guaranteed breakfast and coffee, something that those who get there late will have to wait in line for or miss all together. Eating first gives you the time and energy to cruise the pop-up booths, meet new people and get the perfect seat for the first speaker of the day.

Do What You Need To Do To Be Comfortable

Wear shoes and an outfit you feel confident in, but one that will also stay comfortable all day. Heels are cute for the first two hours, then not so much. A sweater is always a good idea for those over-air conditioned rooms. Bring a bag or purse that you can stash with your favorite snacks, a water bottle, a notebook and pen, and room for all the tchotchkes you may bring home.

Pick a seat on the edge of the room if you can. That way, if the speaker is a total dud, you can slip out quickly without disturbing others. Use this time wisely- grab something to drink or use the restroom (without a line!), head to a less busy area to check your notes or see what’s next. Or maybe you need a quick break for some fresh air or a snack. Whatever helps you to have a better experience, just do it.

A word on the tchotchkes- only take what you’re really going to use or read. If you stop at each booth and take everything handed to you, your bag will be overflowing by the end of the day. Be strategic about what you take, so that when you get home, you don’t have to throw away a bunch of things you never wanted in the first place. It’s ok to say “no thanks” to that 3rd stress ball or keychain.

Be Fully Present

Getting the most out of any conference also means meeting new people. This can be so awkward and so uncomfortable. Do your power poses before you head in, and network your booty off. Some of the greatest people you’ll meet are those sitting right next to you at lunch and at panel discussions. Instead of playing on your phone during those times (so tempting) reach your hand out and say hello. Give them your business card. Talk about what you’ve liked so far at the conference.

While you’re at the conference, be there fully- physically and mentally. Put an away notice on your email and leave it alone for the day. Same with your voicemail. There’s no faster way to ruin a conference experience than to be texting/emailing/making calls in the hallways instead of actually listening to the speakers. Your work will be there when you’re back.

Follow Up and Say Thank You

After a long day of panels, speakers and networking, it’s so easy to just toss your bag of goodies and business cards on your desk and forget about them- but don’t! Pull out the cards of those you met and drop them a short little email a few days after you return. Tell them it was great meeting them. You never, ever know where these connections might lead, or how you could help this person in the future. Making connections is the best part of any conference.

All photos provided by the author.

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