Getting the most out of a conference requires more planning than a lot of us expect. This tip-filled article will walk you through what to do before, during, and after the conference so you reap as much as possible! Getting the most out of a conference doesn't mean attending every possible session or social event. And it doesn't mean you need to collect as much education material as possible either. (Collecting as much free swag as possible, though, is another thing.)Ultimately, to maximize your time at an event or professional development conference, you'll want to prepare for it and choose how you spend your time there carefully. These 14 tips below will help you do that more easily!
Whether you're attending a dental conference or trade show for the first time or the tenth time, offering to help the meeting organizers almost guarantees you'll be getting the most out of a conference. You may earn a discount on registration, but more importantly, you'll have the chance to meet dozens of new colleagues and know the ins and outs of the conference itself.
It may sound silly, but being able to introduce yourself confidently and comfortably can do wonders with building professional relationships. Whether you call it a personal elevator pitch or just your bio, having your introduction script down pat will stave off jitters that may come with meeting new people. Here's a template, courtesy of Orbit Media, you can use to structure your introduction: "I'm a [job title] at [practice name] in [city, state]. I've been in that role for [number of years], and I absolutely love it because [passion statement or story]."
The last thing you want to do while at a conference is to have to find a mall (or an affordable store) because your clothes are too casual or because you forgot your phone charger on your kitchen counter. A couple of weeks before the event, research what kind of attire most attendees wear (e.g., look for pictures from the previous year), and list what you'll need to bring. Besides the right attire, some items that should be on the top of your list include a phone and/or laptop charger, business cards, a notebook, your ID, and any registration materials you printed out.
If you know your squad is attending the event, connect with them and schedule time to catch up. Meet-ups at dental events and trade shows are the perfect setting to exchange best practices and help each other solve stubborn practice challenges. You'd be amazed at how much a new environment and friendly brainstorming can fire up your creativity!
Of all the pre-conference to-do's, planning which presentations and break-out sessions to attend may be the hardest. There's always so much to attend but so little time. To make your choices, allot yourself a mix of sessions that relate to your responsibilities now, that touch on what you want to develop in the future, and that are just plain interesting. Attending a conference is about being able to apply what you learned, but it's also about envisioning where you and your practice need to be down the road.
Big-time meetings and conferences, like AADOM's Annual Conference, are massive events. And while the promotional and registration materials may provide some helpful information about how to navigate the event, it may not be quite enough if you're new or if the event has expanded since you last attended. In those cases, don't hesitate to ask for direction or guidance from meeting staff and volunteers. They know the event's ins and outs more than any pamphlet, map, or website can convey.
Facebook and LinkedIn make it easier to keep in touch with colleagues. Smartphones have replaced the need for a rolodex. But business cards are still surprisingly useful at getting the most out of a conference. Most likely, you'll be meeting dozens and dozens of event attendees over the course of a couple of days. The business cards you receive will help you follow up with your new colleagues and friends after the meeting. Use these handy 4 X 2-inch cards to remind yourself who you want to friend and connect with online.
Part of the equation for getting the most out of a conference is setting yourself up to not only retain what you learn — but apply it, especially right away. Taking notes during an engrossing session or at the end of the day will make it more likely and easier for you to do that. Typing out notes on a laptop or a tablet will help you capture tips more quickly, but some research says that taking notes by hand actually helps you remember the information better.
The smartphone paradox: they help us stay connected, but they can also keep us from being present and meeting new people. To get the most out of the professional event, limit how much you use it, and hide it in your pocket or a bag when possible. Instead, go back to the "old ways" of connecting: friendly conversation. For example, if you're waiting for a session to begin, chat up the person sitting next to you instead of scrolling through Facebook. Here's one great use of a smartphone at a conference, though: selfies and group selfies. Snap a pic of yourself before a session you're excited about, or get the squad together to remember your time together. Then share it with the world on social!
Before you know it, you'll be standing in line at the hotel check-out, waiting to hit the road and get back to your normal, busy routine. Don't rush your departure. Schedule some me-time toward the end of your conference to review all your notes, brainstorm ways to apply what you learned, and begin planning how to make those improvements. The more you can "play" with your new ideas, the more likely you'll use them and your practice will benefit with them.
There are always those few speakers whose sessions and courses create fireworks in your brain. Thank them for it. They'd love to hear about it, and bonus points — you've made a pretty great contact for the future. If they passed along their contact information during their session, email them a quick note; if they didn't, try LinkedIn. Here's a template you can use or tweak for your message to them: "Hi, [name of speaker]! I attended your session, [name of session], at [name of the conference]. I just wanted to say that I enjoyed it so much! The part of your session when you [description of a part of the session you enjoyed most] really resonated with me. I've already made plans to apply it at my practice ASAP. Thanks again, and hope to connect with you again soon!"
Here's where those business cards came in handy. As soon as you have some free time when you get home or even while you're at the airport, use your business cards to connect with the new colleagues you met and friends you made on social media. Here's another template you can use in your messages to them: "Hi, [name]! We met at [name of conference]. I enjoyed chatting with you so much about [the topic of conversation], so I'd love to stay in touch. Hope the travel home went well. If I can ever help with anything, let me know!"
The few days right after the conference is the perfect time to consider whether you want to up your participation at next year's conference. If this was your first time at the event, maybe next year you volunteer so that you can pay forward all the guidance you received. Or if you're a conference veteran, next year may be the year that you lead a session or a course on your expertise. Either option ensures you'll be getting more out of a conference next year than this year — which is always the goal!
When you return from a professional conference or meeting, you want to be able to show how useful attending the event was and how much you learned. Revamping every aspect of your practice operations and team development, though, may create some challenges. We recommend making change strategically and with the entire team in mind. One easy way to get started is to hold a lunch-and-learn. Gather up the team, share some of the biggest insights and best practices you learned, and get the team's input on how and when to implement them. Getting the most out of a conference takes some work before, during, and after the event. But in the end, it's completely worth it because not only will you grow professionally, but your team and your practice will improve because of it!
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