Monday, August 6, 2018

Navigating a Professional Conference

I love the excitement of a conference. The people. The location. The break in routine.

The workshops.

The moving parts at the center of all conferences, no matter the profession, are the workshops. Varied and dynamic, they are one of the main reasons we go to conferences in the first place. Depending on the conference, the number of available workshops can be overwhelming. How's a conference-goer to choose?

Over years of attending conferences, I've learned that I choose workshops the same way every time. It's not scientific, but it's also led me into some very interesting sessions. Here are a few of my common sense guidelines.
  • I chose this workshop because it sounded interesting. The topic is usually the big draw. Sometimes, I grossly overestimate this and/or the presenter doesn't deliver in the way I'd hoped he or she would but, most of the time, I walk away with a few new tidbits. If all else fails, I can meet a few new people by introducing myself to other attendees.
  • I chose this workshop because it seemed necessary. These are the workshops we attend because we hope they'll enlighten us on skills we need but are perhaps not terribly enthusiastic about learning. For writers, these are often the workshops on nuts and bolts or social media and promotion. We'd rather write, but acknowledge that this other stuff is important, too. 
  • I chose this workshop because I like the speaker. Keynotes and other workshops by featured speakers or professionals we admire fall into this category. For multi-day workshops, we might also go back to hear a speaker we enjoyed on a previous day. At writing workshops, I know I've hit the jackpot when the speaker is as good at planning and delivering a workshop as he or she is at putting words on the page.
Then, there are the time slots where you want to go to more than one presentation. If you've attended the conference with a friend or fellow professional, dividing and conquering can work well. Otherwise, the decision can be made with a coin toss, or based on room location (one room is bigger/warmer/brighter than another) or another similarly scientific pursuit.

What about the times when there's no workshop that jumps out at you? Reading the descriptions and presenter bios can help. Or, perhaps it's time to grab a cup of coffee or a nap. I used to feel as though I was wasting time when I did this but, with experience, I've learned that finding a busyness/down time balance and a learning/networking balance is also essential to making the most of a conference.

How about you? What tips do you have for navigating all that a professional conference has to offer? 

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