Attending a conference can be an intense experience with a lot of decisions to make. How do you make the most of your experience?
Fresh off their attendance at NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference, Thread Directors Andrew Edwards and Mackay Gunn and Thread Principal Tracy Shaw share their advice on how to navigate a conference successfully.
How do you go about networking at a conference?
Start out by introducing yourself! At sessions, sit with people you don’t know and say hello to those who join around you. A friendly “Hi!” can go a long way! If the schedule allows, try to arrive at your sessions a few minutes early and stay late, that allows time for natural conversations to happen without being rushed with the session.
Don’t forget to share on social media/LinkedIn that you will be at a conference – this will help make connections in advance to people you already know who may also be attending. A familiar face can help break barriers and introduce you to others who they may know!
If the conference has “add-ons” such as happy hours, dinners, or affinity group gatherings during meals, etc., try to host/attend those as well. These are excellent opportunities to broaden who you connect with in person.
How do you keep track of all the people you meet at a conference?
Ahead of time, understand how the conference facilitates networking. Do they have an app where you can share contacts? Will they give you a personal QR code? Or will you need an old-school method like business cards or sharing LinkedIn accounts? Whatever the method, come ready to suggest you stay in touch with the people you meet. The last thing you want when you make a really great connection is to not know the easiest way to keep the conversation going. Don’t miss your window of having each other’s attention!
What advice do you have for picking sessions at a conference?
If you are attending with more than one colleague, divide up and conquer! The Thread team found it helpful to meet before we left for NTC to talk through who would attend which session to ensure we were maximizing our opportunities. An good ‘ol spreadsheet can be very useful in facilitation this!
Many conferences now offer a hybrid approach where some sessions are virtual. These will most likely be available after the conference on-demand, so focus on taking advantage of in-person sessions while on site.
As you and your team strategize your schedule, make sure you are focused on sessions that will help you grow and learn in your own work and organization.
Beyond the sessions, there’s usually a vendor exhibition hall. What’s the best strategy for meeting and learning about vendors?
We recommend starting out by saying hello to vendors you already know. If you use their product or have met them before, say hi! It can never hurt to know more people at the company.
For vendors that are new to you, visit their table and ask questions. Learn what solution their product provides, how this differs from others in the space, and what else sets their offerings or products apart from ones you might be more familiar with. Some vendors provide demos during conferences. Attending these can also help you identify which tables you might want to visit to learn more about the company.