Tips for Making the Most of Attending a Conference: Part 1

Lindsey Lassiter is a YNPN Triangle NC volunteer on the Marketing & Communications Committee.

Conference season is upon us! The YNPN Team is hard at work finalizing preparations for the #NonprofitSTRONG Summit in Raleigh on Friday, May 18. We thought it would be worthwhile to highlight some tips for making the most of attending a conference. Whether you’re flying solo, with a team, are new to the conference space, or an old pro, read on for a shortlist of things to keep in mind.

“When Opportunity meets Preparation she greets her with open arms and they both say in unison, 'Let's do this!'” –Sanjo Jendayi

Preparation means doing the obvious things like deciding what sessions to attend and checking to see who else will be there. But, it also means doing some deliberate goal setting. Conferences are busy places with lots of events and serendipitous interactions. A clear sense of what you are there to accomplish will help prevent getting lost in shuffle.

Set Primary and Secondary Goals: Pick Sessions Accordingly

Setting a primary goal should be directly connected to why you are at the conference in the first place. The more specific you can articulate your primary goal, the more likely it will be that you will wrap up a productive day. The purpose of differentiating between a primary and secondary goal is to better prioritize the sessions and speeches being offered. Conferences are, by design, packed with options to meet a variety of attendee expectations. Check out this year’s #NonprofitSTRONG lineup here.

Try to articulate specific primary goals. For example, your initial desire to attend a conference might be to learn more about digital marketing. But, after reading  speaker bios and session descriptions you could set a primary goal as: “gain insights into how to drive website traffic through Instagram and Pinterest.”

If you are attending a conference for your own development, then a primary goal might be to learn the latest techniques for storytelling. Check the schedule not only for sessions, but also the speaker’s background and experience. Are any of the panelists or speakers from organizations that execute storytelling very well? Think about where and when you can introduce yourself, such as between sessions or during an evening networking event.

Secondary goals can be less specific, but are no less important. Maybe you want to open some communication channels with another nonprofit that inspires you. Or, if you’re an introvert like me, maybe you’d like to try to make at least five meaningful connections. In 2014, I attended a conference that I was dying to help plan for the following year. My secondary goal was to introduce myself to the organizers and start a dialogue to be on the planning committee for 2015 (mission accomplished!).

Be Social! Meaningful Interactions Start with a Scarce Smartphone

It is so tempting to get distracted by smartphones. What’s a few minutes before a session starts? Or using that line time to check email? Even when it seems harmless (like standing in line for coffee or the lunch buffet), you might be missing out on serendipitous opportunities to meet people. Remember to set your out-of-office automatic reply so you are less tempted to respond to work emails immediately.

Many conferences have an intentional social media effort. For example, follow @YNPNTriangleNC on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as our conference hashtag #NonprofitSTRONG. Use these tools as an opportunity to engage with the conference attendees around you and with folks in your social networks (who will be jealous they didn’t attend!) by sharing photos and content from your favorite sessions.

Check back on the YNPN Triangle NC blog next week for the second part of our conference tips series!

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