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How To Get The Most Out Of Atttending A Conference

by Paramjit L. Mahli

Are you getting the most out of attending conferences?

Attending conferences can be a hugely costly venture, particularly if travel is involved. Let's face it conferences are exhausting and demanding emotionally, they take you away from billable hours and clients. Finally, unless you are traveling first class there are the post September 11, travel implications. All of which makes us question whether they are worth attending. However with a bit of elbow grease, conferences provide a huge opportunity to build relationships with prospects, strategic alliances and professional peers. Done well, attending a conference helps take relationships to the next level and provides a multitude of networking opportunities.

Here's a checklist of things to do before attending the conference:

  • Business cards make sure you have enough. If you are running low, order them in advance. You need to take extra cards, because guaranteed there will always be other attendees who have forgotten them. So put your best foot forward.
  • Get one of your associates to find out how many people will be attending, and if you can get a list of the attendees beforehand. (Not always possible, but always worth a try) By getting your associate to carry out this you are doing double duty, the associate is learning a business development activity and helping the senior attorney make certain they leverage all their opportunities.
  • If the organizers DO provide you with a list of attendees, highlight it with a bright, fluorescent highlighter, so that it sticks out like a sore thumb when you review conference materials. Don't forget to highlight all the sessions you want to attend and the speakers that you want to connect with.
  • Have a camera with you, particularly if it is an international conference. Undoubtedly photographs will be taken, this is great opportunity to have extra copies made and sent to other attendees that you met. They will certainly remember you. If you do email them, remember to include your contact details.

These are some of the very basic things attorneys need to do beforehand, in order to maximize the return on investment of the firm's dollars and time.

Once you are at the conference itself here are some more pointers:

  • Arrive early for all sessions. This will provide you with ample opportunities to speak to speakers, other attendees and plan where you will sit.
  • Try and attend as many of the social events for the conference as possible, especially if they are very near the hotel. At these events, often broken down in small groups the atmosphere is usually relaxed and informal. They are wonderful for making those one to one connections.
  • During breakfast and lunch times, try and sit with a different group of people, preferably attendees that you don't know. Don't forget one of your reasons for attending is building your network.
  • Become familiar with coffee spots in the hotel. These are great spots to arrange one to one meetings. Have the mindset of host rather than a guest.
  • If you're not one of the speakers, you can still get your 5 minutes of fame. Ask a thoughtful question during the question and answer section. However, don't forget to tell the audience who you are and where you work.
  • If you know of other attendees from different parts of the country attending, arrange a breakfast so that you can connect.

When you return from a conference the temptation will inevitably be to delay going through conference material and become immersed in 'catching up.' Though tempting, what you should do upon returning, is to block a couple of hours of reviewing and implementation time.

During this time go through all the conference material: your notes, networking dinners, keynotes and other activities. Gather all business cards together. Prioritize whom you want to reach out to, allocate a realistic time frame. Remember, you don't want too much time to pass without reaching out to other attendees.

Ultimately the success of attending conferences is determined with the timeliness of follow-up.

About The Author

Paramjit L. Mahli of the Sun Communications Group is a former journalist who has worked with international news organizations including CNN Business News, and now helps small to mid-sized law firms increase their visibility, build their reputation and helps them grow their business by using public relations. She also developed popular tele-seminar class, "How To Grow Your Law Practice On A Shoestring Budget".

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.