From learning and knowledge sharing, to expanding your network and meeting other leaders in your field, professional conferences provide an excellent opportunity for administrative leaders to advance in their professional development. That being said, conferences can also be overwhelming and hard to navigate without a plan. To get the most benefit (and have the most fun), professionals should take a strategic approach to their conference attendance. Here we offer some tips to get the most out of your conferences.
Your time is valuable. Do not just attend every conference that is related to your field (time and budget constraints often make that virtually impossible). Be selective. Before you register, make sure the conference agenda for that year fits in with your professional development goals or opens up other opportunities that may otherwise be unavailable.
Do Your Research and Come Prepared
Review the conference program, schedule and speakers before you attend, and identify which sessions you find most interesting or valuable beforehand. It is a good idea to organize an itinerary to ensure you will be able to attend the panels most important to you; but don’t schedule every minute, as it is important to leave some time for browsing and other unexpected events, like making new connections or impromptu meetings. Keep in mind that the presentations within your area of expertise or that you find most interesting may not be the most valuable ones to attend, so push yourself to attend some panels or presentations outside of your specific area of expertise, sessions that will aid in your professional growth. For speakers or attendees with whom you would like to connect with in person, reach out to them prior to the conference via email or social media. Finally, make sure to bring business cards, notebooks, CVs, tech, etc., as needed and check the weather forecast before you leave.
Consider your Accommodations
Staying at the conference hotel can be very beneficial, especially if there are related events in and around the hotel. If there are not however, focus on finding accommodations within walking distance or easy public transportation to the conference location.
Meet New People
While they can be a great place to connect with colleagues, conferences offer one of the best opportunities to meet other leaders in your field. Push yourself to make at least three new connections a day, and process them in real time by taking contact information and notes on the people you meet. If you are on the more introverted end of the spectrum, ask a friend or colleague to make introductions. Do not neglect the social aspects of conference going either, as this is a great time to make a more personal connection with other attendees. Take part in pre and post conference social activities, and organize get-togethers with the new connections you meet.
Seek Out Career Opportunities
Many conferences include booths or workshops for career services. These are a great resource for career advice and seeking out new opportunities. Look for booths headed by professional associations or higher education search firms, and consider scheduling an appointment with a representative or search associate ahead of time, to discuss your career track and goals.
During Conference Sessions
It goes without saying that panels provide a great place to discuss and learn about what your colleagues are doing in other university programs around the country. Practice selective note taking, and aim for three key takeaways from each session. Spend the rest of your time engaging in the panel, by participating in the discussion and asking questions. Don’t forget to use the social media tools at your disposal, such as Twitter and Instagram. Most conferences employ a Twitter #hashtag allowing conference goers to share what they are learning and follow discussions in real time.
Don’t let your notes gather dust. It is a great idea to process your session and contact notes post-conference, to review and reflect on what you have gained from the experience. Finally, be sure to follow up with the contacts you have made, no more than a week after you have returned from the conference.