One thing leaders need to lead well are new and fresh insights, and one of the best ways to find them is by attending conferences. But eureka moments are not automatic. It takes intentionality to get the most of out of your experience.
In my experience, people go to conferences for a lot of reasons other than the stated purpose. It’s a chance to get away from the office, to reconnect with colleagues and friends, or maybe just hide out in a hotel room and catch up on an important project.
Those might be fair reasons to go, but what if you’re actually there for the content? How do you get the most from your experience?
I speak at a lot of conferences each year, though I only attend a few where I get a chance to sit down as a participant. I’ve always found when I go to a conference, I get out what I put in, and I don’t want to shortchange myself.
Here are four things I do to maximize my return:
- I play full out. Several years ago a friend invited Gail and me to a conference. This was his advice before we left for the event. I’ve never forgotten it, and I have benefitted from the advice ever since.
Immersing yourself in the experience ensures you’ll get the most out of it. If you walk in the doors with this mindset, you’ll leave with more than someone who does not.
- I suspend disbelief. We all have an inner critic that can savage any speaker. But what’s the point in that? If there’s something to gain, we’ll never find it once we start looking for fault.
The best thing I’ve found is to simply listen. You can critique later. But when you’re in the seat, keep that inner critic at bay. Remaining open means you’ll have a better shot of picking up what good there is—and it could be a lot more than you think.
- I take good notes. I know, this isn’t high school or college, but notes are crucial for retaining information. If your work life is hectic and tiring—and whose isn’t?—you might be tempted to just sit back and absorb, but the truth is you won’t absorb much unless you write it down.
You can use your Moleskine, Evernote, or whatever tool lets you capture the key information. If you’re like me, you might find that the best insights come later as you’re working through your notes and making connections between different points.
A related tactic is blogging about your takeaways from the presentations. Whatever helps you chew on the information a bit longer than the moment it’s delivered can make all the difference.
- I’m choosy about my company. This is bound to sound harsh to some, but I’m always intentional about who I spend time with when I attend a conference. There are only so many hours available, and I don’t want to waste them.
I know, for instance, how essential sleep is for retention and wellbeing. I’m not willing to sacrifice that for a party or reception I could otherwise take or leave. Ask yourself this: If you were home, would you skip it? If yes, then do yourself a favor and head to your hotel for some shuteye instead.
A conference can be a moment to escape. Or it can be an opportunity to gain invaluable insights that will literally change the trajectory of your life. Don’t waste the experience.