Love them or hate them, conferences are an inescapable part of business life. Some send you away full of renewed enthusiasm; others seem like a complete waste of time. When things go wrong, you can always blame it on the conference organizers—or on your boss for sending you in the first place. But good or bad, we owe it to ourselves and to our business to make the most of them.

Before

Check out the hotel where you will be staying. Look at the website and phone the switchboard with any questions you have. Is there a pool and/or fitness suite? Is wifi included and what sort of speed is it? Will there be a shuttle from the airport? Knowing things like these will minimize your frustration if they turn out not to be ideal.

Study the agenda and decide in advance which sessions are most relevant to your needs. Not everything will be useful.

Check the list of attendees and note any with whom you would particularly like to meet. There will certainly be some who will make a difference.

Pack carefully, bearing in mind that you will probably bring back more than you take out. Take comfortable clothes for relaxing and also note if you will be needing very formal wear.

During

Make good use of your free time to look after yourself. You might be eating more than usual and sleeping less, so take time off to walk and to use the exercise facilities of the hotel. If possible, get right away from the hotel to explore the area. If you are staying in the popular Renaissance Westchester hotel, you are not far from New York, so don’t miss the opportunity to spend a few hours there.

Manage your communication with your office. Arrange with your colleagues that you will only be contactable at specific times. Only check emails and texts when you are alone.

Don’t attend every session, but make the most of those that you do attend. Stay focused and try to contribute, but without appearing too pushy. Get noticed—but in a good way!

Network at every opportunity. Take plenty of business cards. When you make a contact that you want to follow up, make a note on their card of the things you ought to remember about them.

After

Set aside a day after the conference to consolidate your notes and to compile a list of the things you want to follow up. If there are new ideas that you want to discuss with your boss or colleagues, get a meeting into your diary as soon as possible, before you slip into old habits.

Start to follow up the contacts you have made. Make a note of when you want to get in touch and what you plan to talk about.

Make It Work for You

Every conference will have its good points and its bad points. The determination to get the best out of the next conference you attend will help you to prepare successfully and use the time effectively.

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