3 Ways to Get More Out Of a Conference Than You Paid to Get In

Conferences are expensive. How can you make the most of your time and investment?

maximize your conference investmentI recently attended the 2013 CATESOL (California Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) conference in San Diego. Total cost to attend, including admission for two, hotel, travel expenses, and food? $1000. This is expensive…but also on the cheap end in terms of what many conferences charge.

Thinking like a business person, I began to ask myself what, exactly, I was getting for my money. In the end, I did get my money’s worth, but only because I followed these three rules:

1. Flip the conference.
In education these days, there is a lot of talk about the “flipped classroom,” where the learning takes place at home and the “homework” or review takes place in the classroom. When you are trying to maximize your conference investment, try approaching it like a “flipped conference.” Think of the sessions, keynotes, lectures, and workshops you attend as your review time and approach the time when you are not attending sessions–your meal time, your after-hours social time, your time browsing exhibit booths–as your learning time. In other words, expect to benefit more from your time outside of sessions than from the sessions themselves.

2. Focus on meeting, not learning.
You may feel that you are at the conference to “learn” as much as you can. Trying to get your money’s worth by attending as many sessions and workshops as you can, however, will just leave you tired, overwhelmed, and frustrated. Even if you take great notes, you will most likely never review them. Instead of trying to learn as much as possible, try to meet as many people as possible. Of course, you will need business cards. Your goal is to try to meet people who may be able to provide value to your business. You may not find customers, but you will likely find fellow business people who have interesting ideas, potential partners who can help you expand your business, and even competitors who are interested in comparing notes. These short conversations can be invaluable.

3. Follow up
When you get home, reach out to your new contacts via LinkedIn. Get connected. If you met a potential partner, reach out to him or her and schedule a time to talk again. At the recent CATESOL conference, I met several teachers who were interested in starting their own business. I haven’t received an email from any of them. People consistently fail to follow up. What do you have to lose? Oh yeah, $1000.

By flipping the conference, focusing on meeting rather than learning, and following up with the contacts you make, you ensure that the $1000 you have invested in the conference continues to benefit your business long after the conference is over. Otherwise, you might as well spend your money on a real vacation.

How do you maximize your conference investment?

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