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What to Do Before the Conference

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In the age of technology, digital communication tools such as email, instant messaging, teleconferencing and social networking sites dominate our personal and professional lives. Though some complain that life and work have become impersonal, most of us can hardly imagine a world without these modern conveniences.

Yet, there are times when nothing can take the place of good old-fashioned face-to-face communication. Professional conferences offer valuable opportunities to make personal connections with colleagues and thought leaders that can work wonders for your career and your company. But how can you maximise the benefits of these events?

We’ve compiled a pre-conference to-do list. Once you’ve crossed all of these items off your list, you can pretty much count on a productive, stimulating and enjoyable conference experience.

1. Do your homework
Peruse the event website and all promotional materials to find out what speakers, sessions and social activities sound interesting and relevant to your career goals. Some conferences may offer more than 200 concurrent sessions covering a range of topics for professionals at all levels of their careers. Unfortunately, you can’t attend all of them so you’ll have to prioritise. While some conference goers choose sessions based on who is leading them, others make their selections based on themes and career goals. Decide what makes sense for you.
Attending with others from your company? Divide and conquer. Agree to attend different sessions and share what you learn.

2. Get organised
Will your conference take you away from your hometown or city? Don’t wait too long to make travel reservations or you may find yourself paying through the nose. Likewise, take advantage of early-bird registration. You’ll save money and won’t get closed out of the sessions you most want to attend.

Consider making a checklist of items you need to bring with you. Though it may seem like a no-brainer, a checklist will help you to remember to pack essential supplies such as note-pads, pens and plenty of business cards. Don’t forget your wardrobe. Business attire is the norm for professional conferences, so have a couple of outfits dry-cleaned and pressed as well as some casual options for evening networking events.

3. Connect in advance
While smiles, handshakes and eye contact are key at conferences, social media plays an important role prior to the event.

Conference-related LinkedIn groups are a wonderful way to forge new business relationships, reconnect with old friends and increase your awareness of industry trends and conference highlights. Resolve to meet up with at least three of your new social network connections in person while at the conference.

"Work out who the influencers are and try to connect with them on websites like LinkedIn," suggests global operations associate and LinkedIn contributor, Camilla Pecetto “Contact influential speakers or attendees to let them know that you look forward to hearing their presentation or meeting them at the conference. Making contact beforehand will make introducing yourself in person much easier.”

As Twitter has become a major force in social media, conference promoters have begun assigning hashtags to their events to create pre-conference buzz. You can keep up with the conversation by following the event on Twitter using the assigned hashtag. But don’t just be a follower. Be a tweeter! Tweeting about the conference is a great way to start conversations and make connections. Social media consultant Tatiana Natzke suggests researching conference speakers and organisers, and if they are Twitter users, adding them to a curated list. Create a Twitter list of people who use the event’s hashtag. “Update and share every other day using the hashtag and in doing so, you’ve automatically boosted your visibility and positioned yourself as an influencer" she advises.

4. Develop and then rehearse your 30-second elevator pitch– a lot!
What’s an elevator pitch? According to Chris O’Learyauthor of “Elevator Pitch Essentials,” an "effective elevator pitch is designed to give the audience just enough information that they will have a sense of what you are talking about and want to know more. Second, and just as importantly, it is designed to not give the audience so much information so that they feel overwhelmed (and tune you out)," says O’Leary.

It’s not every day that you’ll have the ears of so many important business associates. So make the most of it. Be prepared to talk about yourself, your accomplishments and your goals clearly, confidently and concisely.

5. Pay it forward
Consider colleagues who won’t be able to attend this year’s conference. Plan on taking lots of notes, and be prepared to share all you have learned when you return to the office.