I have the awesome opportunity to attend several ministry conferences. Since then, I have been asked several times for some conference tips or advice. I am not a conference expert, but I do think I could give you a few tips that would help make your time at your next conference more beneficial.
#1 Don’t feel like you need to attend everything
It would be very easy to become overwhelmed looking at the schedule of sessions and breakout sessions. Remember, as much as this is a time to learn and grow, it is also a time to get away from the every day routine. Don’t be afraid to skip a session. Talk a walk, find a place to sit and think, or even go back to your room to find some time to process.
#2 Interaction is more beneficial than information
By this I mean networking. Look around and you will see hundreds of like minded people. You will have an opportunity to hear the sessions at a later time (order the audio) but you may not have a chance to have coffee with that leader you have watched from a distance. That guy you met at lunch may be able to help you implement your next big idea. Don’t get me wrong, the speakers are speaking for a reason. It is because they have something to say that can help those who hear. But, as Jim Wideman once said, if you walk away from a conference without someone’s phone number or email, if you walk away without new friends you can talk to later, you missed the boat. (paraphrased from CM+ leadership training on networking).
#3 Take business cards and pre-printed labels
This is not my own tip, but one that was shared with me before my trip. The resource center at some conferences can be HUGE. Not only can you learn about some awesome new resources, but you can sign up for newsletters, and by doing so you will often be entered into a drawing to win some cool prizes. Think of all the time and energy you will spend by preprinting your name, address, (phone number) and email. It is much easier to peel a sticker than to write your info over and over and over again. And who knows, you might just win something! I won two sets of curriculum from Zonderkidz. Winning is always fun!
#4 Pack light, or bring an extra bag
Again, not my idea, and unfortunately not one that I listened to either. I took a small carry on suitcase so I could avoid checking a bag at the airport. This worked well until it was time to come home with all of the free materials I picked up and the few things I purchased. My small suitcase quickly filled up, and there were things that I would have bought but I did not have room. Make sure to leave lots of space for your free and purchased materials, and you might even consider packing a suitcase inside a suitcase to be sure you can fit everything when you come home. I have a friend that ended up getting more that 15 free shirts from the different vendors. (he did ask and beg a lot though) There is opportunity to walk away with lots of ‘stuff’ but you need room to get it back with you. You might even check with your hotel to see if they offer a shipping service, then you coud box up some material and mail it to yourself.
#5 Use social media
I got to attend the GROW conference at Church of the Highlands in Alabama as well as the CMLeaders conference in Columbus. Both times I was able to meet people in person by using social media. Twitter is a fantastic tool (connect with 100 different #kidmin peple on twitter). Not only will you be able to share 140 characters of inspiration with the rest of the world by using appropriate hashtags, you will also be able to see who is at the conference with you. See someone you want to say hi to in person? Send them a tweet and more than likely you will have your chance to meet in person before the day is over.
If you have a blog, post your notes. There are lots of people that will attend the conference vicariously through you. I would suggest posting live while at the conference. If you don’t have a blog, find somewhere to guest post (just ask! I would love you to post here if you are interested).
Like I said, I am not a conference expert, but I do think that if you take some of the advice above you will improve your conference experience.
What conference do you plan to attend? What do you hope to learn? Be sure to share your experiences so we can learn through you!