How to Get the MOST Out of Your Next Conference

Posted by Kristin Arnold on August 5, 2019

You’ve decided you are going to take your team to your industry convention or topical conference.  So you all fly there together (unless you have a “keyman risk” so you fly separately), divvy up the sessions and call it a team building event.

At least that’s what I see typically happens.

What if….you and your team took a more “intentional” approach to your meeting?

Start with sitting down with your team and determining the objectives.  Ask each team member to identify their own individual as well as the team/organizational learning and networking objectives.  Then share them with each other, noting the overlapping objectives.

Then take out the program and determine which of the offerings address your strategic initiatives and “overlapping” objectives.  If you have any questions, do not hesitate to call the conference organizer or “team concierge” for advice (Yes, that is an actual term, according to meeting architect, Sarah Michel).

Map out who goes where:

  • Strategic initiatives and overlapping objectives are best for all to attend.  Sit as a group. Many conferences are creating room layouts to accommodate groups of four to six sitting together to exchange ideas in real time. Or, you can encourage your team members to split up and sit with people from other organizations to gain different perspectives. (Of course, that means that they will have to make an effort to engage others vs. hang out with the people they already know!)
  • To accomplish individual objectives, encourage your teammates to be strategic.  Don’t go to a breakout session because you like the presenter.  How is it going to help you achieve your goals or an organizational strategic objective?  Make it clear that you expect them to share the key takeaways.
  • The point is not to divvy up all the sessions and go to everything.  Be intentional and strategic.  Have your team know exactly why they need to be in that particular session.  And if they like what they heard, encourage them to go to the session presenter, introduce themselves, and create a connection in case you want to pursue an idea further.

Traditionally teams from organizations attend a conference with a divide-and-conquer game plan, as they split up and attend as many different sessions as they can. The challenge with that strategy is that it’s very unlikely any real change will occur when the one team member who experienced the learning returns to work. Will they share what they’ve learned from a session? Or simply pass on a PowerPoint deck?                                   — Betsey Bair, Velvet Chainsaw Consulting

When you get to the venue, identify an area to randomly meet up, check in after a session or debrief at the end of the day.  Michel calls these “activation areas and zones where teams can meet up onsite to debrief and process the learning and ideas they captured that day.”  I call it “home base.”  As an introvert after extensive extroverting, I like to quietly touch base with people I know – or chill in a quiet place to reflect on the day!  🙂

At the end of each day, make sure you debrief key ideas that reinforced what you already know/do, interesting ideas, and potential action items.

Extraordinary teams stay an extra half a day after the conference to extend the debrief even further – what are you going to agree to start doing, stop doing, or change what you are doing as a result of attending the conference?

In this way, you will maximize your conference investment and build the team!

 

KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF, CSP is a high-stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator.  She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 20 years.  She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.

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Photo by Evangeline Shaw on Unsplash