Every year there seems to be an influx of conferences: marketing conferences, fundraising conferences, tech conferences, conferences about conferences. They’re everywhere. It’s hard to know which conference will be worth your time, but, if you’ve managed to pick one or two or three, it’s important that you make the most of your experience. After all, tickets to these events are hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars—you need to make sure it’s money well spent.
Nonprofit Hub hosts Cause Camp, a national nonprofit conference, every spring. We survey all of our attendees each year, and it’s taught us a lot. And we’ve been to our fair share of events around the country, too. Here’s what you need to do to make the most of your conference experiences.
Frequent conference-goers will often tell you that networking opportunities are more valuable than the conference’s content. That’s certainly not true for everybody, especially natural introverts, but failing to take advantage of the chance to people like-minded professionals is a big conference no-no. A lot of conferences have structured networking sessions built in to the agenda that almost force attendees to mingle with one another. And, in most cases, there are social hours and parties where the environment is a bit more casual and candid. In either case, make sure you’re putting yourself out there—you never know what those relationships will yield.
Conferences are exhausting. It’s easy to go through the one-track content and then retreat to your hotel room to kick your feet up. But if you’ve gone through the trouble of making it to a conference—buying a ticket, potentially traveling a long way, taking time off of work, etc.—the least you can do is take advantage of what the conference has to offer. Sometimes it’s hyper-specific workshops, or one-on-one time with experts or an off-site mini-conference. Other times it’s just fun stuff: parties, cocktail hours, yoga (yeah, we actually do this at Cause Camp).
Whatever your options are, you’ll never regret taking the time to try everything a conference has to offer. At the worst, you’ll know what to avoid next time.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but so many folks fail to retain the information they learn because they don’t write it down. Yes, most conferences will make their presentations available after they’re over, but taking notes puts the info in your brain without having to rewatch or relisten to content. And, if you’re able, it’s best to write notes by hand. Studies have shown that notetakers retain information better if they write by hand as opposed to digitally.
Some conferences have an official notetaker, which is an awesome resource for people who are unable to take notes themselves or who want to be fully engaged with the presentations. However, it still creates the problem of retainment. Everyone has different notetaking preferences, but just make sure you’re going home with something tangible to take back to your organization.
As you’re conferencing, you need to maintain a positive attitude. If you’re not willing to learn from and engage with the content, you won’t have a worthwhile experience. Trust the conference hosts, the presenters, workshop leaders and anyone else providing content and education. They put in countless hours to make sure you take away as much as possible.
Now, go forth and have the best time at your next conference! Maybe we’ll see you there.
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