Recently our team had a really good conference experience. The conference itself wasn’t so great, but some of the things we did before and afterwards helped us to have a good time and take away a few nuggets of wisdom. Here are a few tips to help make your next conference a good one, even if the speakers aren’t stellar:
Have a plan
Every great conference experience starts with a good plan. Spend time beforehand writing out who is going, the schedule (when and where to meet, have meals, etc.), whose driving, how much it’s going to cost, where the money is coming from, and print driving directions there and back. It’s also a good idea to have a couple of night options picked out so you and your team don’t lose time figuring out something fun to do when sessions are done.
At conferences it’s pretty easy to slip into spouting stats to impress. But when we relax, drop the act, and be ourselves is when we start to learn, connect, and have fun. The best conferences I’ve been to are the ones where I’m not “Jeff Mc Clung, Children’s Pastor” but where I’m just Jeff. Peter Bregman did a really great post on How to Attend a Conference as Yourself. It’s worth checking out before your next conference.
Go with friends
Never go to a conference alone. Ever. Always take someone (of the same gender) with you. It could be a key team member, the whole team, or someone you’ve been mentoring. Make sure it’s someone you get along with and who’ll benefit from the material that’s being presented.
The last conference my team and I went to was a dud. But I still came away with a page of notes with good stats and a few quality ideas to implement. I got most of the useful content from only one speaker. But that’s OK. At least I got something. Even if most of the speakers stink (and they did) you can still find at least one nugget of useful content if you’re looking for it. Good note taking lets you sift through information well.
Don’t take a lot of stuff with you. Most of the time the bare essentials will do. Only take what will fit into one suitcase (preferably that fits comfortably in the overhead compartment of a plane). For me this is pretty easy. I usually just take a backpack. This may be difficult for some but you’ll be glad you did.
With tools like Yelp.com it’s super easy to find cool stuff to do nearby. Before the conference come up with a few ideas for your group to hang out and have fun after the day’s session. Don’t worry about brainstorming how you’ll apply what you learned (unless everyone’s dying to). Focus on having fun.
Set aside some time on your calendar for a few days after you get back to reflect on what you heard and consider how you’ll put it into action. I say a few days because you’ll want to get some rest, catch-up with family, and see what’s piled up while you were gone. Definitely make time within that first week to figure out what you’re going to do with what you learned.