User Conferences (Part 2): Make the Most of your Time

Amy Nelson; Learning Experience Principal; CounselLink:

So, you are going to a User Conference! Let's chat about making the most of your time at the conference. Here are some tips to maximize your time out of the office:

Turn on your Out of Office

This seems simple doesn't it? We all know that it is not easy to really be OOO. We are all VERY connected, it is hard to be unreachable, so make the extra effort ahead of time. Draft a list of potential issues that might interrupt your conference time and assign the follow up to someone else. Clear your calendar and let your office mates know who your backup will be while you are out. Use your out of office message to direct urgent issues to a backup and warn about delays in communication. Commit to being present at the conference.

Step Out and Meet People

There are plenty of extroverts out there that find this easy. If you are anything like me, stepping out and making conversation always feels a little awkward. However, I never regret when I step into that uncomfortable space and make a connection. First, plan to attend all the events. Go to the kickoff party, attend the dinners, go sit at the pool or in the lobby, make yourself available and seen. Second, make a plan for starting conversations, prep some talking points and conversation starters - a few lighter and few deeper - this simple step makes it so much easier to start a light conversation. Third, remember, you already have a lot in common with everyone. You are in similar fields, you use the same software, there is a lot to discuss there. And finally, connect with people on social media. Solidify that connection with interaction after the conference.

Real Time Reflections

Every conference I attend, there are pads of paper and pens everywhere. Of course, they are there to take notes on sessions, but how about real time reflections? Use some of your time to reflect on all those great notes and how that information will help you and others back at the office. Take 10-15 minutes a day or a couple minutes after each session and brainstorm. How does the information from the session impact you or your co-workers' day-to-day activities, or how can you improve processes? These reflections will serve as the start of your action plan when you get back to the office.

Vary Session Attendance

If options and timing allow, attend sessions that are intended for positions periphery to yours. You have heard the adage 'dress for the job you want not the job you have', how about attending sessions for the position you want not the position you have? Go to that executive panel discussion, see what they are discussing. Another idea is to go to sessions that target people that work for you. Go to the system administrator training, learn what your direct reports are learning. Varying your session attendance can help you gain valuable perspective.

Have Fun

Yes! Have fun. Go to the pool, get a massage, take a day of PTO and enjoy the location. How often do you get out of the office like this?


This is the second of a 3-part blog series on User Conferences. Be sure to read the first blog on why conferences are important and be on the lookout for the last blog on sharing your conference experience.