Work conferences can be a great way to meet new people and to learn valuable information. Many employers encourage their employees to attend work conferences, and some even require it. Many workers learn important information and skills, and may even get the chance to network. However, occasionally work conferences can feel like a waste of time. If you’ve attended a conference that didn’t seem to be relevant to your job, or included a lot of workshops that felt like a waste of time, then you will probably left wondering why you spent your valuable time attending the conference at all. Whether you’re attending a conference that you’ve been looking forward to for weeks, or you are simply going to appease your boss (or possibly, to get a free trip to wherever the conference is), there are many steps you can take to make the experience a positive one.
Regardless of how good the different workshops are, if you take time to network during the conference, your time won’t be wasted. Especially if you are attending a conference that is specific to your field, you will have the opportunity to meet many important and possibly helpful contacts. Use your time wisely; attend any dinners or meals that are included with your conference so that you have time to speak to people. Choose your workshops strategically if you think someone who you really want to meet (either a specific person, someone from a particular company, or even at a particular job level) might be there.
If the conference staff publishes a list of attendees ahead of time, determine who you want to try to meet while you are there. According to Salary.com, you should also stay at the hotel where the conference is located so that you don’t waste any time, and be sure to appear confident. Lastly, make an effort to establish a relationship with someone before you try to enlist their help or network.
2. Be open to a new job
While you probably won’t walk into a conference with a job you hate and leave it with a job you love, this does happen sometimes. In addition to networking for the future, you might just stumble across someone who is looking for your exact qualifications for a job that you didn’t even know was available (or that the person doing the hiring wouldn’t have picked you for simply by looking at your resume.) Sometimes these situations can come up just by striking up a conversation.
If you are job searching you probably want to be careful, especially if you have coworkers with you, or there is a strong chance that your boss could hear about that job search. One good way to appeal to potential future employers is to showcase your own skills: speak up and share during the workshops, and if possible, volunteer to present yourself if you the conference seeks presentations ahead of time.
3. Be informed about your field
Attending conferences regularly, or even once in a while, will help you stay attuned to important news and developments in your particular field. This will help you anticipate changes in the field, and may even spark new ideas on your part. Just being knowledgeable about current trends and issues will also impress your boss, and potentially be a career changer. You also might hear or read about something while at the conference that will encourage you to investigate further, and possibly learn more about your field after you leave the conference. If the conference features vendors, you also might strike up a new beneficial relationship or find a better deal than your company currently has, or at least, become more aware of what companies are out there that are similar to your own.
Regardless of how much you know about your field, if you’re attending a conference, you should try to learn more. Use the conference time to gain as much information as possible, and not just about changes in your field or competing companies. Attend the conferences to see what your peers are doing, and how they look at issues that you may or may not have considered already. Look through the workshop offerings and try to plan ahead to attend the ones that might actually interest you. If possible, read up on the speakers beforehand so that you can ask questions if you want to, or if you are prompted; this can also be a chance to show what you know as well.
If you are attending a conference that is somewhat outside of your field, either as a representative for your company or for some other reason, don’t automatically assume that you won’t learn anything. Choose workshops that discuss issues that might help you advance in your career, even if they don’t directly relate to your job right now.
5. Show your commitment
Even if you have no interest in changing jobs, you can show commitment to your company by widening your knowledge base and by representing your company at the conference. Take good notes (listen and watch the visuals, don’t just record the sessions), take down names of people you might want to talk to further in the future, and be prepared to come back to your work and share what you learned. If possible, ask your boss if you can prepare a presentation to share with him or her and with your colleagues. Showing enthusiasm and wanting to learn enough to help move your company forward are skills that suggest you are a leader and a hard worker; these are two qualities that are very important when keeping a job, and when potentially trying to move up.
Conferences can be a great way to meet new people, learn new things, and potentially search for a new job. Don’t assume that a conference isn’t worth your time just because you already know about the subject matter, and at the same time, don’t assume that a conference slightly outside your field won’t teach you something. Even a boring conference can have a few great workshops or involve opportunities to network with others.