Ask KL: Make the Most Out of Your 2016 Conferences

Attending conferences, workshops, or other development opportunities can just plain be exhausting. So how do you turn something tiring into something inspiring? 

1. Pack The Perfect Bag

Actual snapshot of my #masswomen conference bag trick.

Actual snapshot of my #masswomen conference bag trick.

Packing takes preparation. As soon as you receive your conference swag bag, sit down, take all the marketing crap you don't want and throw it out. With all the space left, you can then easily place your purse and survival essentials into the bag.

What to pack:

  • Re-usable water bottle: because it's not worth $5 on the conference floor.
  • Resumes & business cards: you never know who you'll meet! Use a folder to keep them nice and flat. It's a nice touch, even though we have LinkedIn.
  • Look & smell nice: deodorant, gum, mints, blotting papers, and a hairbrush are your friend.
  • Band-aids: because you know you'll need them for your feet, especially for a multi-day conference.
  • Pens & a notebook: This is super important--two days from now you won't remember session one.
  • Portable charger: Avoid a total meltdown and make sure your phone is always charged.
  • Snacks! Particularly if you have dietary restrictions, bring a clif bar, piece of fruit, whatever snacks aren't free cupcakes from booth 10001.

What to leave at home:

  • Your work computer. Don't bother bringing it into the conference unless you have to live blog it. It's heavy, takes up valuable space, and is a physical reminder of the work you're not doing. Be present.
  • High heels: Ditch the stilettos. They're uncomfortable and will only make you miserable.

2. Pick Your Sessions Ahead of Time

Know which sessions you want to attend before you step through the doors. Don't be swayed by a friend or colleague's choices; in fact, by attending different sessions, you can learn more. Swap notes or your post-conference recap (see below!) after the event.

Planning the sessions ahead of time builds a curriculum and paces your day in a way that makes sense for you. It prevents choice paralysis--the idea that with too many options, we just can't choose--especially when making a decision too late can get you shut out of a session. Download the conference app if they have one, since it shows up-to-the-minute location changes and updates.

3. Take Actions, Not Notes

Take  this great podcast's advice. First, if you're not taking notes, you definitely should. Studies show that writing it down (not typing!) helps you remember more. But the act of taking notes shouldn't keep you from engaging in the content.

It should be inspiring enough to spark some new ideas or actions that become the meat of your notes. For example, a typical notebook page of mine would have multiple stars/underlines/arrows to blog post ideas, note frameworks to apply to my own work, or book titles dropped by the speaker (or written by a speaker, for that matter).

4. To Tweet Or Not to Tweet, That Is the Question

Be present. Stay off your phone during sessions, unless they're super boring, in which case, save yourself the trouble and walk out. Trust me on that one.

Constantly tweeting both wastes your time and annoys others. Instead, write down your favorite quotes, in addition to actions, in your notes. As you sit quietly waiting for the next session, tweet something inspiring, impactful, and thoughtful, instead of something madly dashed off in the middle of trying to listen. See an example below:

5. Take Care of Yourself

You can only do so much before you drop. No matter how captivating the speaker, if you're thinking about what's not in your stomach, you won't retain much. Skip a session if you have to and recharge. Get some tea or coffee. Wander around the near-empty show floor. Meet some people. And most of all, fuel your body so you're fully engaged in what you're doing.

6. Post-Conference Recap

After a crazy long day of networking, learning, and doing, you may need to crash (especially after the post-conference party!) Add one more thing to your to-do list: a post conference recap. Try this great how-to template if you're not sure where to start. Whether that's having coffee with some colleagues who attended or typing up your notes, make sure you actually retain what you learned.

For me, that's typing up my notes, thinking through what inspired me the most, and writing a blog post, like this one from #INBOUND2015 or this one from #masswomen. Even if I don't have time to ever read my notes again, I can revisit what inspired me the most months later.

For more tips and tricks, check out this great post from Hubspot.