Traveling to a conference requires an investment of time and money. You take time away from the day-to-day tasks of the business and there's a good chance you're also sinking money into airfare, a rental car and a hotel stay in addition to attendance fees.
So how you do you make the most of the conference and walk away from the experience knowing it was good for you and good for your business?
Do Your Homework
Begin developing your conference strategy weeks before you pick up your name tag.
Go carefully through the schedule of seminars, roundtables and panels taking special note of who the speakers are. Think about who might be attracted to that topic or that speaker and decide if the information or the contacts are likely to be helpful to you.
Also, avoid presentations with overlapping topics. You probably don't need to spend time attending three different sessions on three different ways to use social media to maximize your business impact.
The most important part of any conference may not be what is going on in Ballroom A at 11:30 a.m., but the relationships that are cultivated and the information that is shared when peers in an industry get together.
Reach out to people you know to find out if they are attending; and take advantage of social media to connect with other attendees and get some conversations flowing before the conference ever begins. Schedule meetups for drinks or meals or snacks that happen off the agenda. Consider asking each person you're inviting to extend the invitation to someone else as well.
You never know who you'll meet waiting in line for a meal or sitting in a lobby or even on an elevator. Don't be afraid to make the first move and introduce yourself. A conference is no place to be shy.
See the Sights
If a conference was meant to be another ordinary day in the office that is where it would be held –in the office. Conference organizers choose their venues carefully to add value to the experience. Whether located at a beach, on a mountain, in a big city or near an amusement park, the locale is a draw for conference attendees and their families–so don't go home without seeing the sights. It would be a shame to leave Hawaii after attending 12 different sessions without ever getting sand in your shoes. Schedule in some time to be a tourist.
Molly Gold, organization expert and the entrepreneur behind Go Mom!, attended the Disney Social Media Moms conference in Florida in May and will be at the BlogHer conference in New York City in August. She suggests during pre-conference planning, figuring out how you can "double dip," or attend special conference events that give you exposure to the sights and attractions that you want to see.
And she says don't expect that the events at those venues will be a full-course of the tourist experience. "Think of it as an appetizer taste instead," Gold says. Gold also suggests making a short list of what you absolutely want to see and blocking out the time even if that means trying to arrive at the conference early or stay after it's through. "Don't say yes to everything so that you can make opportunities to tackle the must-sees," Gold adds.
One of Gold's best conference memories is from 2010. She was with a group that made time late one night after the conference dinner to enjoy dessert together at a restaurant. "It was one of the best conference experiences ever," Gold says. "We were with our girlfriends in Little Italy having a wonderful time on a hot summer night. It was like a little precious bubble of true New York City."
Do you take time to explore conference venues when attending a conference?
Carla Turchetti is a veteran print and broadcast journalist who likes to break a topic down and keep her copy tight. That's why this bio is so brief! Carla blogs via Contently.com.