Conferences are great. They are perfect places for networking, learning new things and meeting new people. But turning up to a room full of professionals who all look like they could track a project in the dark without breaking a sweat can be daunting. Don’t panic – here’s our quick guide to attending your first project management conference.
Take Some Business Cards
What, you don’t have business cards already? Get on to your office manager and have some printed. Make sure they say ‘project manager’ on them! It is so easy to forget your business cards if you don’t need to use them every day (trust me, I’ve turned up to lots of meetings and conferences without them) so the best thing to do is to put a few in a pocket in your bag or jacket so that you always have them on you.
Business card etiquette varies, especially as now people are sharing their social profiles at events instead of traditional cards. However, business cards are useful to drop into prize draw boxes. They are also still a very good way of giving someone your details, but generally it is better to wait to be asked for a card than to shove one into someone’s hands as soon as you meet.
Prepare Some Conversation Starters
It can be awkward to be sitting next to someone at a presentation and wondering what to say. You can overcome this by preparing some conversation starters. Asking questions is always a good way to break the ice, and it could be as simple as, “Where do you work?” If the conference delegates are wearing badges, you could ask what industry their business is in, or if you have heard of their company, say so and ask about their role.
Once you have opened up the conversation, you need to keep it going. Asking for advice is a non-threatening way to keep a discussion going. You could ask about what sessions they would suggest you attend later that day or what you should be doing to advance your career. Most people are very happy to give their opinion on practically anything, so simply sit back and listen!
Don’t hang out with your work colleagues all day. If any of them have come to the event with you, make sure that you spend at least some of the time talking to new people. One of the biggest benefits of conferences is that you get to meet some really interesting people. The speakers and exhibitors will often attend sessions so you could find yourself in the lunch queue next to the person giving the keynote.
Make the most of your networking opportunities by being interested in the other person’s job or industry. You don’t have to make lifelong friends at these events, and you should never try to sell your services directly to someone you have only just met. Just be polite, friendly and remember to be yourself!
Plan Your Day
Wandering round aimlessly while everyone else attends great presentations is not good. Neither is being late and sneaking in through the creaky door hoping that no one turns to look at you. So plan your day in advance.
Conferences have their schedules and speaker biographies published online so you can easily work out who and what you want to see. You may be given a paper copy of the schedule in the conference program when you arrive, so take a few minutes at the beginning of the day to highlight the sessions you want to attend. Check that you know where the rooms are and if there have been any last minute changes.
If you are attending the event with colleagues, make sure that you co-ordinate your schedules so that between you all you cover as many sessions as possible.
Check Out The Exhibitors
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the exhibitors are not worth talking to if you don’t have a buying role at your company. However, it is always worth walking round the exhibition floor. You’ll find exhibitors are always interested to talk to delegates about their products and services, even if they know that you aren’t in a position to buy them. It is a good opportunity to stay up-to-date with the latest technology trends.
Some exhibitors run educational sessions where you can gain credits for your professional development accreditation. If nothing else, many exhibitors will have free stuff or prize draws on their stands, and who would say no to that?
Share With Your Colleagues
Attending conferences is expensive. It’s a considerable outlay for your company. Not only do they have to pay for you to attend, you have a day out of the office (maybe longer) that you aren’t working on your project. So overall they are making a big investment in you, and it would be wrong to overlook that.
When you get back to the office, make sure that you schedule some time with your colleagues who were not able to attend. Share what you have learned. Type up your notes for the departmental newsletter or organize a brown bag lunch where you fill them in on the highlights. Put any fliers, magazines or conference brochures somewhere where everyone can browse through them. This is the best way to get a good return on everything that you have learned at the event.
Going to a project management conference is awesome. It’s a great opportunity and you never know who you might meet or what new insights you will return to the office with. A few preparations before you go and a good approach to managing your time on the day will ensure that you get the very best out of your conference experience. Have fun!
If you’re going to the conference as a group of colleagues, save time with your preparations and share all the relevant files on ProjectManager.com. It’s a simple way to upload useful documents, photos and files to a shared workspace, and you can start discussions as well. Take a free trial today.