Out in the Real World: Making the Most Out of Your Conference Attendance

While I was attending UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management, I was taught textbook concepts about the event industry. Now that I have recently graduated and am “out in the real world”, I’m discovering that while I had a great, well-rounded education, there are just some things that they don’t teach you in school. I had the privilege of attending The Special Event Conference 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee this year and here are a few things I learned along the way that will help maximize your conference attendance.

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1.   Download the Conference App

Most conferences now will have an app available for you to download for free that contains maps, speaker information, session times, and information about activities. Spend some time getting acquainted with it as it can serve as a handy tool to help you navigate the large convention space and keep track of the conference schedule.

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2.  Attend the Sessions
It should go without saying, but you’d be surprised how many people opt to do other activities instead of attending the sessions. If you’re paying for it, you might as well go! There is always something new to learn about the event industry and conferences are goldmines of information. To prevent from getting overwhelmed, take notes on a notebook so you can refer to them at a later time.

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3. Network
Conferences are a great way to foster old relationships and create new ones. People are already expecting to network, so don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with someone in the classroom, on the tradeshow floor or even in line for coffee! Carry plenty of business cards and exchange them with your new friends. Shake hands and introduce yourself to anyone you can (including the speakers). Just make sure to bring hand sanitizer to prevent from getting ill.

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4.  Get Active on Social Media

Conferences usually have a designated hashtag for Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Engage with speakers and fellow attendees by sharing pictures, videos and session quotes in real time with the conference hashtag.

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5.  Follow Up
So the conference is over and you’re just getting back to reality, right? Wrong! Perhaps the most vital step in maximizing your conference attendance is to follow up with the connections you made. Follow them on social media and send them a friendly e-mail reminding them of your conversation and your company’s services. The key to networking is forming GENUINE relationships, so connect with your new friend from time to time!

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Bonus: Explore the City
Depending on the length of your conference and your itinerary, feel free to leave the confines of the hotel or convention center and explore the host city. If it’s your first time there, ask the locals for the top “Must See” attractions and do them! Even if it’s a city you’ve been to hundreds of times before, use the time to connect with fellow attendees over dinner at a new restaurant. Break out of the usual routine! (Plus, you never know when you might be asked about your opinion/experience on that particular city.)

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