The experience of a business trip should be that of exhilaration. Business travelers familiar with erratic flight schedules and coping with a flood of meetings and appointments, however, speak mostly of perils. Perhaps business travel can actually be something to look forward to once or twice a year.
Professional conferences can be one of these exhilarating experiences. Events such as these can give you an opportunity to visit a beautiful destination and meet other professionals whom you can relate to, boosting productivity while giving you a feeling of pride about your profession.
With opportunities for networking, sharing ideas and learning from experts in your field, a quality conference can’t be beat for professional development. At the same time, a dip in the pool or a round of golf might be just what you need to recharge while away from the office. All of this rolled into a long weekend, and you just might return to work with a new perspective, fresh ideas and plenty of energy to implement them.
Listen and Learn
The most common reason to attend a professional conference is for its educational value. Attendees would be hard-pressed to find a better way to further their career than by tapping into a professional association’s body of knowledge. Conferences you attend should relate closely to your work, and what you learn should affect what you do on a daily basis.
Before choosing an event, review the agenda available in conference brochures and on Web sites. Be sure to study the session titles, see who the speakers are and find out the organizations from which they hail.
Also, make certain you get a sense of the learning objectives associated with each session and compare these to your skill set to see if you can strengthen weaknesses or develop skills. If a conference’s content doesn’t relate to your daily job responsibilities or if the learning objectives aren’t clear, it might not be the right event for you.
The Speakers Make the Event
The caliber of speakers at a conference often determines how well-attended it will be. Some events are large and contain incredible energy. Smaller events might better lend themselves to small-group discussion. Regardless of the event’s size, the best keynote speakers provide insight, wisdom and overall business experience that conference participants can apply to their careers. A first-rate conference will have speakers who span various industries, positions and levels of experience and who integrate well with the overall conference theme.
Well-Worth the Price of Admission
Naturally, conference fees can influence your decision about which event to attend. Although it can be tempting to look at the registration fees before considering educational content, this can be misleading.
As with any purchase, make sure you weigh the cost and benefits closely. Another consideration: Your employer might be willing to subsidize your conference registration in part or in full if the event presents a valuable learning opportunity.
Be sure you understand what the total conference registration fee includes. Are meals and receptions included? How many hours of education will be available during the course of the event? Is downtime — extremely valuable for networking — built into the conference schedule? Will there be an exhibition hall where you can see the latest products and services? Is there a special rate on hotel rooms?
Attending a conference is an investment, and a new idea or an innovative solution can pay for your conference fee several times over.
New Environment, New Perspective
The best conferences provide plenty of teaching, as well as time for less-formal discussion. Some take place at resorts with beautifully landscaped grounds perfect for a walk, world-class golf, excellent restaurants, pools to relax in and common areas where conference attendees can mingle. Events taking place in a medium-size or large city also will offer terrific dining and plenty of entertainment options away from the conference facilities.
Location is another factor that determines an event’s value. The time spent away from conference activities might help you clear your mind and prepare for the next day of sessions. Good conferences include opportunities to unwind and even make contacts after the daily agenda is completed.
What Should I Expect?
All the factors included here are important in deciding whether to attend a conference, but perhaps the most valuable guidance you can get is from listening to others who have attended past ones — a word-of-mouth testimonial provides great information from the attendee’s perspective.
Comments are often included on conference Web sites and in printed brochures. Look for them and see if people’s remarks resonate with your anticipated goals. If no testimonials are available, contact the conference organizers and ask them to put you in touch with past attendees in your local area or from your industry. Not only will you get the inside scoop on the caliber of the event — you might even make a new contact to expand your network.
You Get Out What You Put In
Once you’ve decided to attend a particular conference, it’s time to embrace the event. What you put into the event — enthusiasm, interest in learning, finding value in the presentations — is what you will take away from the event.
Professional conferences will undoubtedly continue to be valuable places of learning and professional growth for all industries. These tips, combined with some careful planning, will help you find a conference opportunity that will pay dividends to your career and your organization.