When You Have To Go: 5 Tips For Getting The Most From Network Events

Networking and sharing ideas can books your network as a leader, as attendees discovered at this Female Founders conference recently. The Republican National Convention this past week in Cleveland and the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week gets us all thinking about conferences and network events beyond politics and the race for the White House.True, your conference will likely not have a balloon drop, but the dynamics are similar: a gathering of people connected to an organization or field plus drama, conflict, networking and new information on the agenda.First you must decide if work conferences are worth your time. If you need to attend to further your career, how do you maximize the hours you spend there? And if you are a leader in your organization, how can you make the conference your signature event for the year?Maybe the work gathering is an excuse to eat, drink and be merry on expense accounts like in the recent film, “The Big Short.” Or maybe it is a refueling celebrity-filled two-day like the Cultivate + Create conference this October featuring Nicole Richie as keynote for the digital entrepreneurship fest.Know that you do not have to emerge from a cloud of fog and smoke with your favorite rock anthem blaring at your conference. But as an organizer or attendee, you do have to make your presence at network events worth your time and the time of your colleagues. You can maximize the results if you are diligent about sessions you attend, networking and thinking ahead of what you want to learn, who you want to meet and how you want to share your ideas. And then what action items you will take once you are back home.I know that the annual Journalism & Women Symposium Camp I attend every year (and have for the past 20) offers me new skills, energy, contacts, friendships and a chance to learn, connect and affirm my professional goals.Many leadership consultants suggest that face time (and we don’t mean the app on your smart phone) with colleagues in your industry or even in your company who work in other cities or regions, is worth your time, money and effort. You may meet up with a mentor or work with a peer whom you mentor.Take The Lead is committed to the need for having a mentor and being a mentor as a woman in leadership. The Glassbreakers Take The Lead initiative is dedicated to this mission of peer mentorship. In addition to virtual mentorship, meeting face to face at network events can also be extremely valuable.More than 113 million people attended corporate or business meetings in 2012, the latest stats available, according to Statista. More than 61 million attended conventions and conferences. That same year, in 2012, companies spent $106.6 billion on event planning.Here are some strategies to help you decide if you will attend conference or network events plus tools to making the most of your time there.1. Research to be sure this is a good conference for you. “If money is no object for you, and you can go to an infinite number of conferences in a year, then there is no harm in going. However, if you have a budget, as most people do, then you will want to strategize your conference expenses to get the most bang for your buck,” writes Karen Kelsky, founder and president of The Professor Is In, for ChronicleVitae.See the list of speakers, attendees, read stories of past conferences, look to see if  there is social media buzz and then decide if this is worth your time. Ask yourself if you will learn new skills, new ideas, have a chance to network, share your ideas, possibly present on a panel and connect with people you want and need to know. If it is affordable and the answer is “yes” to all or most of those questions, then go.[bctt tweet=“Going to a conference? Ask yourself if you’ll learn skills, get to network, and share your ideas.”]2. Use your time well. “Conferences aren’t only about the presentations,” Elizabeth Harrin writes in Girls Guide to Project Management. “You’ll also have coffee breaks, lunch and movement between groups to find yourself pressed into talking to strangers. Chatting to them is networking (and you can read here why networking is important for your career) so plan in advance who you want to talk to. It might sound daunting, but the alternative is hanging out with the colleagues you attended with and see every day anyway – not much new to learn from them. Or being the loner in the corner – nothing wrong with that either, and I do like to build some ‘alone’ time into my conference days, but too much of that turns into a wasted opportunity.”3. Network smart. Attending conferences and network events can elevate your brand, according to John Rampton writing in Forbes. “Conferences are very informative, but one of the major benefits is that a conference can help you take your brand to the next level.” He adds, “Not only are you introducing a future fan, client, investor, or customer to your brand (by networking), but you are also getting the much needed advice on what it is going to take to take in terms of ideas, work, manpower, money, and effort to catapult your brand to that next level which you have been working on and chasing – possibly without success.”4. Use social media to widen and showcase your connections. “One great way to get involved in the online conversation around a conference is by using hashtags. In a nutshell, hashtags are tags that make it easier for users to find information on a specific theme or topic. Hashtags act as live links to compile all messages, media, and content relevant to a specific phrase or keyword,” writes Jade Smith in Property Management Insider.Showcase your connections by sharing on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat your takeaways. “Whether you’re a speaker or an attendee, remember you’ve got a unique perspective on things. Use social to share your thoughts about sessions or soundbites that made an impression on you. Give those not attending the conference a play-by-play with your on-the-ground updates at the event,” Smith writes.5. Follow up with the contacts you made. “Get in the habit of creating a Google spreadsheet with the contact info of everyone you meet,” writes  Lauren Brown West-Rosenthal in The Muse. “Update it with every business card you receive or contact information in the signature of every email. Store it in your Google drive, email it to yourself as a backup, and be diligent about updating it when someone’s information changes.”She continues, “Please just trust me on this one—there’s nothing worse than having to dig for the contact information of someone you met five years ago. It may take five years until you need to reach out to people on that list again. That’s OK—it will save you a lot of time and energy if you can quickly pull it up on your computer rather than racking your brain trying to remember where you met that contact or how you think their last name might be spelled as you desperately search your email.”In the best of all possible worlds, you have a great track record of conferences and network events you attend going very well for you personally and professionally. You learn a great deal, make outstanding connections and grow as a leader.[bctt tweet=“At conferences, you can learn a great deal, make outstanding connections and grow as a leader.”]Should you make conference attendance a habit? Even if you are footing the bill and the conference you want to attend is out of your wheelhouse professionally?Perhaps so, writes Angela Copeland, CEO and founder of Copeland Coaching, in the Memphis Daily News.“As we grow in our careers, we often opt out of anything work-related unless we receive a paycheck. Why is that? It could be that our personal time has been more valuable, or maybe we’re just accustomed to our companies paying for things like training, mileage and cellphones.”Copeland adds, “But what would happen if we explored our career interests a bit more – even if we weren’t paid for it? Chances are good that new doors and avenues would open up for us that we had never thought of. We might even enjoy our jobs a bit more.”