If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time in philanthropy-related conferences. Just this year, I’ve either attended or presented at seven of them. Conferences can require a significant investment of time and money on your part. They also can be highly worthwhile or a complete waste of time, depending on your mindset and your plan for making the time spent as productive as possible. Here are seven strategies that will help you get the greatest return on your conference investment.
- Know who’s there. Most conference registrations will allow you to see who’s coming. Before you go, scan the list to identify any potential partners, people you’d like to network with, folks who can offer a particular kind of advice or viewpoint on your work, or the old friends you’d simply like to have dinner with while you’re in the same city.
- Meet individually. Yes, there will be must-attend keynotes and breakout sessions, but your grantmaking agenda may be better served by meeting with individuals one-on-one. Before the conference begins, contact the people you’d like to meet with privately and schedule individual meetings with each during the conference window. Have breakfast, skip a session together, or meet for a drink. Chances are, you’ll move your work further in a single conversation than you might have at an “official” conference presentation.
- Get a buddy. If you’re a first-time attendee or don’t know many people who are attending this conference, identify a veteran conference-goer to serve as your buddy. Let them know who you’d like to meet and ask them to facilitate those introductions. They can also clue you in as to the vibe, dress and tone of the conference, so you can enter the mix smoothly.
- Follow conference media. Most conferences have Twitter hashtags, Facebook pages, mobile apps and/or websites. Follow those before, during and after the conference to see what topics are eliciting the most chatter and discover other leaders with whom you can connect.
- Share your experience. If the conference has a social media or blog team, volunteer to post something. You’ll gain instant attention for your own work, and will have launching pad for creating new relationships and meeting new people either in person or in cyberspace who can become allies for your work. Plus, you can cross post your conference-related social media or blog posts on your own networks, killing two content birds with one stone.
- Get outside! Conference offerings could potentially keep you busy from sunrise to sunset, so don’t forget to get outside at least once a day to keep your mind and body more healthy and awake. Process what you’ve learned so far. Do some deep breathing or meditation. Explore a city you’ve never visited. Or go for a walk with someone as a networking exercise (literally!).
- Block out time to follow up and reflect. Once you return home, be sure to clear an hour or a day on your calendar to reflect on what you’ve learned, debrief your team, and follow up on the connections you made while at the conference. This step can be hard to do, as all the demands you put on hold during your travels come to greet you at the door, so make sure you protect your reflection time before you leave for the conference.
Remember, conferences can be overwhelming and exhausting, or they can be purposeful and rewarding. It’s all in how you plan for it. Want more tips about conference going? Have your own tip to share? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And maybe I’ll see you at the next philanthropic conference!
Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, is a philanthropy expert and author of the forthcoming book, Confident Giving. To learn more about her consulting and advising services for grantmakers, visit her website or read a case study.
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