Going to an industry conference can be overwhelming. So many sessions to choose from, people to network with, resources to learn about—not to mention socializing with industry friends and colleagues. Whew.
After attending my very first HOW Design Conference in Chicago this weekend, I’ve decided to share a few ways I discovered to make attending a conference more manageable and rewarding.
How to design your conference experience
- Create your schedule: decide in advance which sessions you want to attend (as well as vendor tables) and mark your calendar or onsite agenda—this way, you won’t miss out on anything. Unless you forget to look at your calendar, which I tend to do! (see question #3)
- Pack your supplies: bring lots of business cards, plus a notebook and pens. A small pouch to store collected business cards is handy (thanks to my friend Grace for that idea!) as well as a water bottle.
- Make a list of people to meet: amid the myriad attendees, you may forget who you wanted to catch up with. I like to make a list in Evernote so I can update on the fly.
- Refer to your agenda often: it’s easy to get off-track and miss sessions or other activities while you’re wandering or networking. Also a good idea is to set alarms on your mobile calendar.
- Get out of your comfort zone: introduce yourself to a person you’ve been wanting to meet: a speaker, someone you follow on twitter, etc.
- Collaborate with others: put yourself in situations where you can bounce ideas off others, i.e. speaker lunches, roundtable sessions. Often it’s easier for an outsider to give you a new perspective.
- Be open to new ideas: listen to other people’s opinions, take a session you may not ordinarily choose.
- Talk to as many people as possible: you never know where that next great idea (or resource) will come from.
- Take lots of notes: I like to create a margin in my notebook where I keep a running “to do list” or list of action items (which makes #13 much easier!)
- Don’t burn out: take frequent breaks, drink lots of water—and if necessary, duck out of a session (inconspicuously, of course) that is draining your energy.
- Keep a “follow-up” list: make a list of people to follow-up with post-conference—include notes to jog your memory (after several days, it’s easy to forget!) Again, I use Evernote for this task.
- Keep in touch: follow up with the valuable connections you make: email about something you spoke about, add them to your newsletter, or just say hi.
- Give yourself time to decompress: wait a bit before you dive into all the information you collected. It gives your body and mind time to relax—plus it firms up ideas swimming in your head.
- Make a post-conference “To Do list”: go through your notes and create a “To Do List”: a list of action items that you can focus on based on what you learned.