The importance of professional development or lifelong learning, no matter how it is labeled, is often put on the back burner. As our workloads overwhelm us, the need to be in the office to secure new business is top priority or the budget for attending conferences is clawed back, we turn a blind eye to an inherent need to grow.
As industry professionals and leaders in an industry that never stops evolving and setting new benchmarks and best practices, learning opportunities should be seen as mining expeditions. Think about it; if a mining company were to stop explorations their business would dry up. In the meetings and events industry our own businesses will become obsolete or at the very least stagnant if we fall behind on trends, new technology and design thinking in an industry that is becoming more and more human-centric and experience focused.
Know Before You Go
Preparing for a conference should involve more than just clicking the “register here” button, filling in your name and credit card information, and getting on a plane. Whether it is yourself or a team member attending a conference mapping out your conference experience in advance will ensure you get the most “bang for your budget”.
- Full review of the conference program and targeted selection of tracks, breakout sessions or any special choices being offered in terms of learning opportunities
- Research speakers and read reviews so you can determine if a speaker is right for you or delivering content that is applicable to your business goals. If your primary objective for attending a conference is new sales opportunities then you may choose to attend sessions that you feel your potential clients will be attending.
- Review the attendee list to get a better understanding of who might be there that you might like to connect with. This could be a person from an organization that is a potential client or represents a possible partnership opportunity for your company. In some cases you may wish to arrange a meeting with these individuals in advance.
Record Sound-Bytes and “A-ha” Moments
Hold yourself or your team member accountable for returning to the office with sound-bytes or “aha” moments from each session they attend. This will ensure that sitting in the dark space of conference plenary sessions does not result in email checking on unauthentic but clever social media posts instead of listening for the message in the keynote speaker’s address that really resonates with them. Having these key learning moments presented back at the office during a future team meeting can be very beneficial as it ensures the attendee stays motivated throughout the conference and other team members get to share in the learning journey.
Live the Afterglow
After a 2-5 day conference experience it can be instinctive to get back to the office as quickly as possible. Our brains are redirected from our learning experience into catch up mode as the thoughts of exploding inboxes and meetings that are waiting for us start consuming us as we embark on the journey back to the office.
Build into your travel time back home or to the office some moments to reflect on your experience but more importantly to cultivate connections made during a conference.
- Open up your LinkedIn and send invitations to individuals you met during your learning journey. Include a personal note or message reminding them of the connection of follow up on an idea or partnership opportunity you may have started exploring.
- Continue to post on social media about your experience at the conference. Post an image and message about a “sound-byte” or “a-ha” moment can support the development of meaningful connections with other conference goers as well as your professional following.
- Commit to one or two things you will do differently or ideas you will implement in your next event plan or pitch.
So much like mining for precious stones and mineral, conference experiences are defined by the golden nuggets we forage. It might be that one connection made unexpectedly during a coffee-break, a speaker that inspires one golden idea, or even an event set up we experience in a session that will make a difference in the work we do.
Director, Sales & Marketing, Anvil Centre | President Elect, MPI BC Chapter
A 20-year hospitality sales and marketing professional, Heidi honed her skills working for some of the best hotels chains in the world, including Hyatt Regency, Marriott and Hilton. After almost a decade in conference and convention hotels, she spent several years as Manager, Events and Conference at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) before coming to Anvil Centre as Director, Sales and Marketing. Energetic and positive, her career has evolved from hospitality management, sales and marketing to include event management. Her devotion to being a contributing member of a growing and evolving industry that is continuously setting new and higher standards for best practices is echoed in her extra- curricular work and activities. Heidi is a former Instructor at both the British Columbia Institute of Technology and the Art Institute of Vancouver and is highly active with Meeting Professionals International on both a local chapter and International Level.