Do These 3 Things to Make the Most of Your Next Work Conference, Career Experts Say
The majority of work conferences have taken place virtually during the last two years. But with offices returning to in-person and hybrid models, many conferences and conventions have followed suit, and professionals should be prepared to handle both settings.
Experts believe that hybrid meetings and conferences will become the ‘new normal’ for the workforce, combining the convenience of virtual settings with the collaboration and organic networking that comes with physical interactions.
“The future of work will be hybrid,” Laysha Ward, executive vice president and chief external engagement officer at Target, told CNBC Make It’s Jennifer Liu. “And making sure people have the tools to reconnect is really important.”
Whether your next conference is in person, online or both, there are some things you can do to ensure you make the most of the opportunity.
CNBC Make It spoke with Dr. Kortni Alston, a workplace wellness coach and happiness scholar, and Patrice Williams Lindo, CEO of Career Nomad, a career consulting firm, to find their best tips for navigating work conferences.
Get to know new people
Conferences and conventions are the perfect places to network with individuals in your field. These professionals could potentially be your future mentor, sponsor, boss, or colleague, so it’s important to make genuine connections along the way.
“I highly recommend you get to know new people,” Alston advises. “Go through that convention/conference booklet or itinerary and set some goals regarding what people, companies and events you want to see and attend.”
Effective networking involves several steps, according to career finder platform Indeed, including being confident and forming authentic relationships. Lindo says she finds commonalities and “micro-moments” to form connections with people she doesn’t know.
“I enter conferences with the mindset that I have something in common with everybody in this room, and I’m going to talk to five new people today to find out what those things are,” Lindo explains. “You’ll also probably be in sessions with several different professionals, which are great places to create micro-moments and connections.”
Having digital work samples and business cards are also a great way to make your time with someone memorable.
Organize your time – and include downtime
Scheduling your time wisely is a key component to having a positive conference experience. Lindo says having a game plan for tackling different events, especially those that are in person, can help reduce anxiety and nervousness.
“Typically, conferences have apps or digital schedules that allow you to choose events and workshops based on your areas of interests, passions, and curiosities,” she says. “After mapping out what you want to attend, I’d make sure to purposely leave some space for downtime, whether it be to take a break, get some coffee or make some calls.”
Conference and convention schedules are usually jam-packed. And though it’s great to plan on attending as many events as possible, it’s important to also have breaks to combat burnout.
“Give yourself permission to miss a few events if needed,” says Alston. “There’s going to be quite a bit going on, and it’s normal to not be able to hit everything.”
If networking is a huge priority for you, or you deal with ‘FOMO,’ Alston also recommends taking advantage of lighthearted opportunities to meet people, such as “common areas, bars and restaurants.”
Nurture your current relationships
In addition to making new relationships, conferences create the perfect opportunity to foster the relationships you’ve already made during your career.
“You’ll be surprised about how many people you’re going to run into that you already know,” Alston says. More than likely, there’s going to be quite a couple of people from your alma mater or your company attending the same conference.”
Alston recommends that professionals be intentional about making time for their current acquaintances, either by reaching out beforehand or attending sessions and workshops dedicated to connecting colleagues. These interactions can be brief, but still genuine. Talking points like previous projects, career growth, and development, or things you learned about the person previously make for great conversation starters.