+ 3 cities
+ 3 conferences
+ 12 info sessions and seminars
+ 7 dinners
+ 5 cocktail mixers and dance parties
+ 100 or so new people met
= conference hangover!
Yes, I’m finally home. Bleary-eyed, weary, and a little achy. The mere thought of the work piling up at the office, let alone all the conference notes, brochures and business cards stuffed into all the suitcases, bags and purses I shuffled through is finally guilting me out of my procrastination.
Conference hangovers, got to love them! They seriously do feel like the real thing, you just have a lot more work to do to after.
Instead of complaining, or lamenting over how I pushed myself too hard (again), I’ve decided to take a counter intuitive approach to this update and actually encourage anyone serious about building their career to aim to achieve conference hangovers of your own. Yes, I’m serious. Allow me to explain.
Going to a conference is a big deal for most people because there’s a lot involved: time, money, contacts, events, maybe a little awkwardness or fear of the unknown, factoring in what you’re missing while you’re away, etc. The payoff, though, can be significant: visibility, new connections, business development, best practices, continuing education, validation, renewed excitement, etc. Frankly, I’m dumbfounded that more people don’t go to conferences that could so clearly impact their lives and work. But that’s another issue.
Personally, I’m pretty hard core. When I manage to show up, I dig in…deep. I try to experience everything these business bonanzas have to offer. And frankly, I really do believe that a conference hangover (the right kind that is) is the best way to ensure that you’ve maximized your ROI from an event.
While I could write volumes on how to attack a conference, allow me to instead break down how to achieve a conference hangover of your own and why you might want to strive for one at your next big event. I’m not suggesting I want you to get sick from overdoing it, but odds are you could be experiencing all a conference has to offer at a whole new level.
1. Pre-Plan. Spend time before you get there scouring the official conference site, brochure and even related online groups to identify all the things you’d be interested in seeing and attending. Highlight everything that sparks your interest and create your own a la carte schedule of options, starting from early morning to the wee hours of the night parties. Also read up on the speaker bios and determine who you want to meet. Try to memorize what they look like if you can in case you bump into them.
2. Arrive Early. Get into town and settled as early as possible so you can get a lay of the land. Get to know your hotel, or whatever will serve as your home base. Make friends with the hotel staff – they’ll remember you and watch out for you during your stay. Figure out where you are, and how to get back and forth to everything you need to go to.
3. Hit the ATM. Or front desk to make sure you have enough cash to get around and tip anyone you need to. I try to keep at least $100 on me in cash – a few $20s, few $5s and at least $10-20 in $1s. This is a simple step that ensures you don’t get slowed down, you can get help when you need it, and frankly, it just makes everything a bit smoother along the way. (Whatever you do, don’t forget your license/passport and credit card!)
4. Hit the Ground Running. Spend the first day attending the opening sessions, parties, and mixers so you’ll know what to expect. You’ll get a sense of the tone, dress, demeanor, and level of intensity. Touch base with anyone you already know or have talked to on the phone or online. Then turn on your charm and network like crazy!!!! Be as proactive as you can in introducing yourself to strangers, asking about what not to miss, and getting tips from people who have been there before. Meeting people early on is critical to building your confidence and ensuring you have friends to sit next to, hang out with and introduce you to others. Just figure the more people who know you, the more fun you can have!
5. Become a sponge. Attend the critical sessions you wanted to see and add in a few others to learn all that the speakers have to offer. Don’t forget to introduce yourself to them after, too. These are also great places to connect with others who share your same interests or issues. Some of the best contacts you’ll make are with others in the audience, if you end up chatting.
6. Network. Don’t forget that as valuable as the educational programming is, the networking with industry leaders, professionals and peers is invaluable. Make sure you stick around for the coffee breaks, social mixers, and any other times where people are gathered together. And don’t let yourself run out of business cards (I see it all the time)!!!
7. Stay Focused. If you do run back to your room, don’t get distracted by emails, calls, or work you have to do back home and lose track of why you’re at the conference in the first place. Take quick naps if you can or need to, but this is not the time to slack off…until your business is accomplished.
8. No Room Service. As much as you might be eager to crawl in bed and order room service or sneak out for a quiet bite, get yourself out to the evening events where the who’s who hangs out with their friends, fans and peers. Have fun meeting new people, making introductions, talking shop, laughing and bonding with people.
9. Say Yes! If you get an invite to a special dinner, event or group outing with some cool people, go! Little group excursions often turn into the most interesting experiences. You can always go for a half an hour and leave if it’s not worth it. But this is how contacts turn into friendships and even partnerships or clients.
10. Pack Heavy. Collect all the interesting magazines, books, trend reports, conference schedules, brochures and other literature you come across that can open your mind up to other possibilities and opportunities. Save the business cards you get and make notes on the back so you remember who was who. Then start following up as early as while you’re still there, but at latest in the next week.
11. Knock Yourself Out. Don’t stop until you’ve seen it all, talked to everyone, or simply just ware out. If you’re able, book an extra night at the hotel so you can sleep and review your notes before you head back to real life. Otherwise, plan on dragging your weary conference hung over self onto the plane or train and collapse once you’re home. You might feel achy for a few days, but you’ll still find yourself cracking a smile over who you met, how much you learned, all that you accomplished, and of course the fun you had!