Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Make Your Conference Attendance Productive

Throughout our careers we are all required to attend conferences, industry meetings, retreats, strategic off-site meetings. These events are all called different names but the idea is the same – you need to be away from your home or office for a period of time. To ensure this is a productive activity for you I have created a list of tips you can use before, during and after the conference event.

Before the Conference

Phone Ahead – a concierge is the greatest source of information for any new city or hotel. When you contact the hotel where you are staying ask several questions including:

Is there a health club or gym? Is there an additional fee for use of this facility?
Is there Internet access in your room and is this an additional charge?
Is there a hotel shuttle?
Does the hotel provide a pick up service from the airport?
Are there shops close by i.e. grocery store, coffee shop and pharmacy?
Is there a pool or spa facility available?
Is there a business centre with computers, printers and copiers?

These questions help you prepare to pack the required clothing and determine if you will travel with your laptop.

Book your transportation – if the hotel provides a complimentary shuttle service this is a great money and time saver. You will need to book this in advance. You may also like to enquire about using a limousine service (that are often not much more expensive than a local taxi). Alternatively you can arrive at the airport and take your chances with a taxi or multi-stop shuttle service.

Choose your Sessions – if you are able to see an agenda ahead of time, make a note of the break out sessions you would like to attend at the conference. Determine what your businesses needs are and where you want to invest your time. This will avoid wasting time when you arrive.

Make appointments before you arrive – if you know of others who are travelling in for the conference, make time to meet with them for drinks, meals or before the conference. Leverage all opportunities while you are at the event.

Arrange ‘Out of Office’ facilities – determine how you will handle your communication while you are away. You may nominate your Virtual Assistant handle everything for you, you may leave an ‘out of office’ auto responder on email and an extended out of office on your voicemail message. Make arrangements to educate those around you that you are not available during this time.

Change your Voicemail – leave a message on your office number and cell phone that you are not available during that time but give callers an option to be called after hours. Include the day and date you will be returning to your office. You may also leave an alternative name and number for them to call.

Pack stationery – pack a few blank envelopes to store the new business cards you will receive, take a large supply of your own business cards and also pack ‘thank you’ notes that you can use at the event.

Pack Walking Shoes – no matter how long or short the event is, you can always make time to leave your hotel or conference room to get some fresh air. You may also like to consider packing a bathing suit if there are pool facilities.

Don’t over pack – we have a tendency to pack more clothes than required. Ensure you have a combination of professional and casual clothing and footwear. Review the agenda to make note of any special or formal dress events during the conference.

Schedule 1 full day of follow up activities – before you leave for conference, make an appointment in your schedule for a whole day to action any requests you may have received at conference, follow up business cards, write correspondence and investigate any products or services you were interested in.

During the Conference

Stay healthy – drink plenty of water, make good food choices from the buffets and menus, avoid excessive sugar and alcohol, take vitamins, use the health club and get plenty of sleep. It is not unusual at these events to eat foods we don’t normally consume, get less sleep than we are used to and participate in activities that are not part of our usual routine. Keep an eye on your health to really maximise your energy while you are there.

Get out of the hotel – make time to walk outside of the hotel, visit a local restaurant or cafĂ©, check out the tourist activities – ensure you are able to experience an environment outside of your hotel.

Avoid checking phone messages all day – during the day avoid the distraction of checking your cell phone in the breaks. This not only removes you from the event but also can interrupt your thinking while you are there. Check them in the afternoon and return the calls (if necessary) at the end of each day.

Paper is heavy – be aware of the amount of paper you are collecting and folders you accumulate while at conference. I recently had to pay excess baggage fees as my suitcase was 10 pounds overweight… and it was all paper!

Sit in the front row – don’t be shy. Sit up front. You are more likely to concentrate and get less distracted if you are in the front of the room.

Be fully present – in all conversations, during the sessions and during meal breaks, make sure you engage with your presenter, colleagues and new friends. Give them your full attention while you are with them.

Avoid checking your email all day – if you can’t possibly imagine not checking your email each day, do it at night before the events activities re-commence. It can be distracting and unproductive.

Write on the back of business cards – when you meet someone who gives you their card, ask them if you can make notes on the back of their card. Write notes that will jog your memory for follow up after the event (especially if it is a large conference). Sometimes it can be hard to remember all the details when we have left the hotel.

Take your business cards everywhere – whether you are in session, at a social gathering or at the local tourist attraction, while you are on conference always have your business cards with you – you never know whom you might meet.

Be memorable – when there are large groups of people gathered it could be hard to stand out in a crowd. Make sure conference attendees remember you as someone who was a great listener, fun to be with and fully present at all times.

Volunteer – one of the best ways to meet people at conference is to volunteer. You can be a greeter, help place handouts on the chairs, clean up or support a presenter. The organizers will appreciate your help and you will make great contacts this way.

Target those you want to meet – don’t be shy. Introduce yourself to anyone you want to meet at the event. If this feels uncomfortable to you, ask someone else to introduce you to the people you want to meet.

Be prepared to purchase products and services at the event – if there is a trade exhibition, make the time to review the trade stands, take advantage of discount offers and special promotions for conference attendees.

After the Conference

Make a ‘To Do’ List – you may do this on the plane or when you get home. Make a list of everything you need to do to follow up and leverage your time at conference.

Write ‘Thank You’ notes on the plane – if you have an opportunity to begin your follow up on the flight home it can be a great use of your time.

Do what you say you will do – if you made a commitment to someone at the conference make sure you follow through. This is an important aspect of any conference attendance.

Stay in touch – if you made valuable contacts during the event, make time in your schedule to stay in touch with these people. You can do this by teleconference, sending them copies of your ezine or company newsletter or simply by phoning to say Hi… or in my case … G’Day!

Attending these conferences is a huge investment in time, attention and energy. Make your next event more productive by applying these tips.

Neen James, CSP MBA, is an International Productivity Expert: by looking at how they spend their time and energy – and where they focus their attention – Neen helps people rocket-charge their productivity and performance. A dynamic speaker and author, Neen demonstrates how boosting your productivity can help you achieve amazing things. With her unique voice (Aussie accent), sense of fun and common-sense, Neen delivers a powerful lesson in productivity. Find out more and subscribe to Neen’s Ezine at http://www.neenjames.com

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