Attendance at conferences can cost a pretty penny, even if the registration fee is a deal. Consider the hard costs: your registration, housing, travel, and meals. Add in the soft costs around your absence, and, like vacation, you may think twice about being out of the office for an extended time.
The payoff is worth it—so much so that several nonprofits bring in temp staffing to cover critical positions while team members are out. So if you are heading out the door, make the very most of your conference time by using these tips.
Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” It’s not easy to take time out to plan, but the return on the time investment will pay off in spades.
- Take a close look at the dates, location, agenda, and speakers before booking your travel. It’s amazing how often attendees miss part of the day due to an unexpectedly long trek to/from the airport.
- Send out emails to colleagues from other organizations to see if they are going. Even if they aren’t attending, it’s an excellent opportunity for you to reconnect with people you don’t talk to every day. It also creates an opportunity for follow-up when you return—a big plus if you are in development.
- Read the session descriptions closely. The educational content is the main reason for your attending, so select wisely.
- Set up an email auto-reply that states where you are, when you will likely reply, and include contact information of a person who can be reached during your absence from the office.
I’ve attended intense, in-depth conferences that include hundreds of sessions, as well as conferences that are short, adrenaline pumping learning experiences. Regardless of the format, I’m there to learn—and to network. It’s rare to have so many people who work in such similar capacities assembled in one place. Sharpen your networking skills and get to work!
Take advantage of scheduled networking opportunities and create some of your own. Introduce yourself to the people seated around you in the sessions. Meet the other people at your table during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Ask about the sessions they’ve attended, get their opinions of speakers, or what they think of the chicken (yes, it’s always chicken). A little casual chit-chat helps uncover mutual interests, benefits, and opportunities.
- Be “Present”
Don’t just show up…actually be there. It’s physically impossible to be in two places at one time, so stop worrying about the office. Focus on the conference and soak up every bit of it. If you planned properly, someone is covering work at the office.
- Follow Up
Collecting business cards is nice—but if you do nothing else with those cards, you’re losing out.
Jot a specific follow up action on the card—and when you leave the conference, complete that action. Sharing information meant to benefit your new contact can really help you stand out from the crowd. Sending an industry report is a great way to follow-up.
Attendance at industry conferences is a vital part of your professional development. What you learn can also be shared. If you’re fortunate enough to work with an organization that understands the value of investing in you, it makes good sense to demonstrate a return on that investment.
Set up a time to debrief with your team. Share your favorite take-ways, a summary of what you learned, and your opinion on whether or not it was a good use of resources. You’ll benefit, as will your colleagues and supervisors.
Great nonprofit conference calendars are online for this year. Make sure to check out when your favorite conference or training opportunity is scheduled. The sooner you make plans to attend, the more likely you are to go.
Amy DeVita is a publisher, entrepreneur, mother, wife, social media enthusiast and fan and avid supporter of the nonprofit/ for-impact sector. She has written for Top Nonprofits and Third Sector Today; she has been quoted on pieces about social media and social impact on The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast. She was named to the Leading Women Entrepreneurs in NJ Monthly and she is a member of Social Media for Nonprofits’ Leadership Council. In her spare time she enjoys kayaking, yoga, hiking, traveling, and playing Scrabble. Amy lives in New Jersey with her husband, two children, and two dogs. In 1984 she earned the “Most Improved Average” honor on her bowling league.