4 ways to make the most of your conference

 In Networking, PR 101, PR events, Professional Development

Next week, Chris Schroder and I will be attending the PRSA Counselors Academy (CAPRSA) Spring Conference in Seattle. We go to CAPRSA’s conference each year to learn about new ways we can add value to our team here at SPR Atlanta and, of course, to our clients.

CAPRSA is a wonderful resource for those leading PR agencies or independent practitioners because we are all facing similar experiences and can trust each other to provide solid advice.

This will be my third year attending the conference, and I’ve picked up a few tips along the way. Whether you’re attending a conference in town or in another country, check out the following ways you can make the most of your conference experience.

  1. Plan ahead.
    1. It was very hard to resist this view from the 2016 CAPRSA conference in Puerto Rico, but the insight I gained in sessions benefitted my clients, team and me!

      The itinerary is available beforehand, and the attendee list is probably available, too. Take a look at all your options for sessions during the week prior to the conference. This could be a chance to meet a potential client or Thought Leader you’ve only seen online. If there are two sessions you want to attend that are at the same time, connect with a colleague and share notes. Be sure to get the lay of the land as soon as you arrive – those massive hotel conference halls can be confusing!

    2. Planning ahead also involves planning to be not as readily available as you usually are for clients and team members. Set an out-of-office letting others know you won’t be as quick to respond as you normally are, and give them other options. If you have a big project ongoing, be sure to let that client know you’ll be a bit out-of-pocket ahead of time.
  2. Go to the sessions.
    1. This may seem silly, since you’re paying to go to the conference, but go to the sessions. As many as you can. The CAPRSA conference is in Seattle this year, but last year it was in Puerto Rico. I was very tempted to skip a session and lay by the pool, but then I remembered the reason I was there: my team, my clients and my professional development. I attend as many sessions and one-on-ones as I can to ensure I’m maximizing my potential takeaways from the conference. Each session is a chance to learn something new and think about how you can apply new strategies to your own services. Bonus tip: If you’re like me, you’ll want to sit with your back to the windows if possible!
  3. If possible, add in some “bleisure” time.
    1. I learned a new word recently: bleisure. It’s tacking on a couple of personal days to your business trips. If possible, I’d recommend this. Aside from the fact that taking time off is necessary for your work/life balance and recharging for sanity’s sake, conference organizers strive to plan their events in cool places. I’m traveling to Seattle the weekend before the conference begins to explore the city. It’ll be the perfect gap between ending a workweek and beginning a jam-packed conference schedule.
  4. Take care of yourself and your relationships.
    1. Conference days start early … no matter how late the networking goes the night before. If you’re like me, you’re excited to go see friends and colleagues at conferences, and you want to catch up with each of them. Be sure to go to the happy hours and attend the networking at the hotel bar, but also be sure to get some rest.

      Spending time with colleagues with shared experiences is not only important at conferences – it’s fun! (CAPRSA 2015 Conference)

      I make it a point to connect with friends from past conferences, but I also want to meet the newbies! I find that conferences are the often the best places to make professional connections, because you have similar experiences or interests. Following conferences, I reach out to those I’ve met to give them my contact information, and then I try to keep in touch with them throughout the year.

    2. Speaking of happy hours … I often feel the need to have something in my hands while networking, even if the networking lasts three hours! So, I’ll order club sodas with lime. I also keep some sort of snack in my bag, although I’ve never attended a conference that lacked yummy treats around each corner! Take care to get rest and stay hydrated during these conferences. Remember, it’s marathon, not a sprint! Bonus tip: It’s OK to spend time in your hotel room between sessions to collect your thoughts or answer emails, just don’t spend all your time there!

If you have more advice for making the most of your conference experience, let me know. In the meantime – hope to see you at one soon!

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