Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Efficient Conference Experience

This article originally ran as a guest blog post on the Trade Show Network News (TSNN) Blog on March 18, 2012

David Allen’s 2001 bestselling book, “Getting Things Done” launched a time management movement around the world. His tips on living in stress-free productivity have engrossed millions of people to embrace his system (or dozens of others) and get focused on efficiency. Most of us are easily distracted by all the stuff in our lives and it is hard to be focused on the tasks we are working on in the moment.  
When we attend a conference, trade show, convention or other business gathering our lack of efficiency can become a double-sized problem. In addition to all the choices on the conference agenda, we are still bombarded by our daily life responsibilities, as we are in constant contact via our smart phones. 
Years ago, when we attended a meeting we were cut off from the outside pressures while at the event and were wrapped in the cocoon of the hotel ballroom or convention center. We were there to learn, network and discover the latest products or services in our industry. 
The days of a trade show allowing for a getaway from our daily lives are long gone. We now have to balance the constant e-mails, phone calls, texts, and other communications with the schedule of the event. Any meeting venue that has spotty wi-fi is a nightmare for the organizers and the attendees, as everyone now expects to have constant connectivity with their office, family, etc.
These added pressures keep some people from going to conferences in the first place, as it is just too much to juggle more stuff. Meanwhile, those who are present are constantly distracted. The distractions can harm the attendees overall experience at the event, and thus make them take pause when considering returning for future years. It also hampers the networking opportunities, as people make themselves unapproachable when they have their face buried in their phones.
But conference attendance should not make life more difficult.  With a little planning the conference experience can be more productive while staying connected with regular responsibilities.
Five tips for having an efficient conference experience:
1.  Let people know you are out of the office. Too many people try to pretend they are still at their desk when they are out of town.  They think they will be poorly judged if co-workers or clients think they are at a conference, but most understand that professionals attend industry events, thus there is not any negative stigma with being at a conference. Inform key people in advance of your plans and then put an “out of office” message on your voice mail and email auto-reply.  When you manage the expectations of others as to when you will get back to them you will not feel the pressure to instantly answer every buzz of your phone.
2.   Set aside time to review incoming correspondence. Two or three times a day you should check your messages and check in with the office. When you are constantly checking you are not mentally present at the conference. Yes, things do happen that will require your attention, but most of your incoming messages do not need instant attention. Skim your inbox and listen to voicemails a couple of times a day, but do not respond to everything. Knowing that you have a time for checking in will give you peace, and satisfy your worry that the world is crumbling without you being in the office.
3.   Be organized about what to attend. Conference agendas can be overwhelming.  Review the schedule of keynotes, breakout sessions, meals, happy hours, etc.  Some events have so many choices as to where you can spend your time that leaving it to a last minute decision can lead to going to any session instead of the best ones for you. Decide in advance which sessions are “must attend” and “nice to attend”. Thus, if something does come up that you have to attend to during the conference, you will already know the best time to schedule the time to get it done. 
4.   Pay attention to the education. When listening to a speaker or panel, pay attention to what is being said from the stage. Do not multi-task by surfing the internet, replying to emails, or checking Facebook. Take notes, Tweet interesting nuggets of information, and contemplate how the information can impact your career or company.  If the speaker is not interesting, walk out and attend another session. Do not waste your time, but when there is valuable information being shared, do not be tuned out.
5.   Meet other people. Not having your phone in your hand at all times means you can talk to other attendees. A main reason people say they attend business events is for the “networking opportunities”, and yet they often fail to take the steps necessary to begin conversations. Be serious about talking with others, as in addition to the basic connections, the discussions in the hallways at conventions can be some of the best learning opportunities. Ask people what they thought of specific speakers or about the best thing they have learned at the event. 
A conscious commitment to being involved at the conference will lead to a more successful experience.  But people will not make this leap on their own. Organizers must show people how to get it all done while at events, as leaving it to chance means people will stress out and fail to have an efficient conference experience.      

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections. 

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