Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Getting the Most Out of Your Conference Experience

They are happy because they read these tips!
The new year has arrived, and with the new year comes new opportunities to learn and engage at a variety of conferences, academies, and institutes hosted by institutions, inter/national fraternities and sororities, and interfraternal organizations.

How can you make the most of these opportunities in 2014? Be sure to pack these seven tips I’ve learned along the way to maximize your conference experience:
  1. Check Your Attitude: Before you even arrive at the conference, be sure you’re mentally ready to be there. The wrong attitude can ruin the entire experience. Head into the event expecting to learn some new information and generate new ideas, make new friends and connections, or just get some time to recharge. If you don’t think you’ll gain any of outcomes before going, you probably won’t.
  2. Eat, Sleep, and Keep Warm/Cool: We’re talking about some basic Maslow needs here, but they need to be met before you can get the most out of that session you so badly want to attend. Take advantage of the meal times that are allotted; if you don’t want to skip a session to eat, be sure to pack some snacks. You’ll probably want to stay up all night meeting new people, but remember: you need to be up early for tomorrow’s sessions. Dress in layers so you can be ready for any temperature situation. Being too hot or too cold can make you zone out and miss some great information.
  3. Network: We’ve all heard a thousand times about the value of networking, but it’s worth repeating. Networking, however, is something deeper than just collecting business cards or shaking hands. The people around you at this conference truly care about what they do. Learn from them. To do this, you've got to learn about them. Figure out what positions they hold (if any), where they've succeeded and where they've failed, what are their struggles and so on. By learning this information, you’ll better understand who might be able to help you when you need it most.
  4. Divide and Discuss: If you’re attending the conference with others from your chapter or campus community, it’s important that you don’t stick together the entire time. There will likely be a session that many of you would like to go to, but I encourage you to split up. You may want to plan out ahead of time who will attend what sessions. Send one, two at max, to the fabled session. Later, over a meal or in the evening, get back together and share what you learned at your sessions. Now, instead of several people talking about the same topic, you all have different perspectives and ideas to bring back.
  5. Repurpose Rather than Recreate: You’re going to hear a lot of great ideas at these conferences. The presenters and main speakers have been chosen for a reason—they are good at what they do and have found something that works for them and their campus. With that said, avoid taking their ideas or programs and immediately recreating it in your organization. Instead, identify the core components of the idea and figure out how to repurpose it so it can be successful on your campus.
  6. Reflect on Your Experience: This is probably the most important tip of all, and one I’m pretty bad at doing myself. Reflecting on your conference experience allows you to process all the new information you received and really figure out how you’re going to use it. This process also helps to keep your conference high going. After you've reflected and determined what the most important outcomes are, you’ll be able to make the proper connections and move your chapter, council, or community forward. A basic place to start is to answer three questions: What? So What? and Now What? Essentially, what happened, why did it matter, and what will you do now?
  7. Have Fun: I think conferences can sometimes become a burden. They see it as just another responsibility of an office they hold or a way to get the next best idea for their chapter, council, or community. I encourage you to have fun and make memories. The individuals you attend this conference with may never all be together again, so take some time and create something worth reminiscing about later down the road.

Whether this is your first conference or one of many you've attended in your lifetime, I challenge you to take these tips to heart. Electing not to put these tips to use won’t necessarily ruin your conference experience, but they will make it more enjoyable, and you’ll walk away appreciating the experience so much more.

Nick Estrada is the Director of Leadership Development for the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity. Find him on Twitter: @nestrada89.