Attending a professional conference should be much more than a chance for your employees to polish their golf game or get out of the office for a few days. This is an opportunity for them to find out how your company fits into the larger industry, gain insights into your competitors and pick the brains of some of the business world’s best and brightest.
It’s important your employees understand that approval for them to attend an industry event is a sign your organization values them and wants to invest in their career. In exchange for this investment, your company expects them to demonstrate in tangible ways that the cost of this conference benefits the business, too.
What an employee should do before, during and after a professional conference is similar to what needs to be done with any type of employee training and development. But there are some key differences. Here’s how to help everyone on your staff maximize the value of attending a professional conference.
1. Review the agenda
Before your employee leaves town (or leaves the office, if the event is in town), you should discuss expectations. Does she need to learn a new skill, gather cost-cutting ideas, find new vendors, scope out the competition or recruit new talent? The answers to these questions should shape her conference plan.
Next, have them review the conference agenda to see which sessions are most likely to be of benefit to their job, your department and the company as a whole and discuss their decisions with you. If more than one person from your company is attending, make sure they coordinate who will cover which sessions so the company can get the most bang for its investment.
Any session you choose should either be educational, meaning they’ll learn something of benefit to their career or your business, or provide them with the opportunity to meet someone. Think: thought leaders and influencers. For each session they plan to attend, have them ask themselves, “What do I already know about this topic, and what do I want to learn?”
Another tip, especially for conference newbies: If it’s a big tradeshow with hundreds of vendors, it may be wise to determine which vendors are must-sees ahead of time. Then, you can map out how you’ll walk the floor to save both time and steps.
2. Go over the basics
Young or inexperienced employees may benefit from some reminders about how to maximize the conference experience. And even seasoned conference-goers may appreciate the refresher. Such basic instructions may include:
- Remember to take your laptop, chargers and plenty of business cards.
- Always bring something to write on. (Adult learners remember details better if they write things down.)
- Set an out-of-office reply.
- Make sure coworkers who are covering for you have what they need to do your job while you’re gone.
- If traveling for the conference, check the weather and be sure to bring appropriate clothes so you can participate fully in activities.
- Be early to avoid registration lines and get better seating.
Remind the employee that they’re representing the company during this event, so it’s important to be on time and conduct themselves professionally at all times. Some employees may need to be encouraged to put away their phone during sessions and make eye contact with the speaker or people sitting nearby.
3. Get the word out
Face time is a major benefit to attending a professional conference. That’s why it’s important to let customers and vendors know someone from your company will be at the conference. When appropriate, have your attendees look up the conference hashtags and announce their attendance on social media.
Next, have the employee review the conference’s sponsor, exhibitor and speaker lists to determine who they need to meet.
Many companies use conferences and trade shows to launch new products and services. Encourage the employee to ask vendors if they need to schedule a specific time to demo the latest items, or if it’s okay to drop by the booth or hospitality suite.
If some of your customers will be at the conference, your employee should reach out and invite them for coffee, a meal, or to sit together at a couple of the sessions.
Explain to your employee that planning who they’ll meet helps them balance the overall experience. They’ll be able to attend the most essential learning sessions and still have time for conversations with your highest-priority customers and prospects.
4. Meet and greet
Professional conferences can be a challenge for both introverts and extroverts for different reasons. An introvert attending a professional conference may need to be reminded to step up and speak up. That means: Introduce yourself, ask questions in seminars, and get to know the folks at your lunch table.
In contrast, an extrovert needs to step up and listen up. The extrovert will likely be energized and excited by the crowds and new faces. Remind them the importance of listening and asking questions to learn more about the people around them.
Regardless of personality type, encourage attendees to stop mid-stream and think, “Am I learning what I set out to learn and meeting the people I need to meet?” The answers to this question can help them readjust their focus to stay on track with their original conference goals.
5. Stay organized
During the conference, everyone is busy meeting new people and absorbing new ideas. No one can remember every important detail without taking notes.
Coach your attendees on your favorite methods of note taking. For instance, when you meet a new person, do you write brief, relevant details about your conversation on their business card? Or, do you prefer to use your phone to snap a pic of their card and an app to track notes?
Remind your employees that they’ll need some way to remember which customers have questions to answer post-conference, and which new contact may make a good summer intern.
CamCard and Evernote are two popular note taking apps.
Once everyone is back in the office, it’s time to reflect on what was learned and share that information with the home team. Post-conference, consider coaching employees to:
- Share seminar handouts, reading lists, product spec sheets and prospect lists with their coworkers.
- Organize their thoughts so they can offer clear explanations of what they learned and saw, and how it may benefit the company.
- Summarize what they learned in an email, presentation at at the next staff meeting or document posted on the company’s shared drive (depending on the content).
- Document any discussions they had with customers and prospects in your customer relationship management system.
- Send out LinkedIn invitations and brief follow-up emails to facilitate ongoing communication with key people.
With the right planning and follow-up, attending a professional conference can be a game-changer for both your employees and your company.
Find more tips and tricks to maximize your staff’s effectiveness. Download our free magazine, Insperity guide to employee engagement.