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May 17, 2016

Four strategies to help you make the most of a big industry conference


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Imagine attending a national conference with more than 400 speakers and over 300 different sessions. It’s exciting, but a little overwhelming.

Conferences and industry events offer exceptional networking opportunities, insights into industry trends, and guidance from national experts – all in one location.

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) annual May conference offers 10,000 professionals a choice of over 300 sessions from 10 content tracks and four industry sequences. Simply picking sessions to attend – not to mention choosing networking events – can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack.

How do you maximize your limited time (and energy) to take advantage of all the valuable resources conferences have to offer?

Follow these four strategies to help you make the most of ATD 2016, or any conference:


1. Set your key objectives.

Before you register for any sessions, be clear on what you want to gain. This will help you narrow down your choices of sessions and speakers later. Consider two major opportunities:

Networking. The benefit of attending conferences is face-to-face contact with leaders and colleagues in your field. What are your networking goals? Are you trying to raise the profile of your company? Gain new insights into development trends? Generate leads for future projects?

Education. What skills do you plan to develop at the conference, based on the range of thought leaders and industry experts available to you? Is there a specific software tool you need to learn to be more effective at your company? Are there key leadership traits you want to develop? Are you researching training vendors or digital learning tools for your organization?


2.  Research and plan.

Once you’ve registered, read the conference materials. ATD’s website offers profiles the speakers, descriptions of sessions and even a floor plan of the Expo Hall. Familiarize yourself with the conference layout to save time searching for rooms and events later.

Consider your key networking and educational goals:

Assess the presenters. Talk to others who have attended this conference or similar ones in the past to see if they are familiar with any of the presenters. Which speakers do they recommend and why? Which sessions were less helpful and could be skipped?

Figure out who you want to meet. This may be your only opportunity to have one-on-one time with thought leaders and industry experts. Research them and set up times to meet during the conference if appropriate, or make plans to seek them out at receptions and “Meet the Speakers” events.

Divide and conquer. If colleagues or team members are also attending the conference, discuss with them what they’d like to accomplish and agree to “divide and conquer” so you can cover more presentations and interact with more people.


3. Use online tools to narrow down your session choices.

Most conference websites offer tools to help you search for specific topics and speakers. ADT’s website includes an online schedule planner to help you plan your conference schedule.

make the most of an big industry conference - Planning worksheet

Click above to Download our free Conference Planning Worksheet.

Narrow your choices by:

Focusing on key topics. Don’t waste time on subjects you could likely teach yourself; this is the perfect opportunity to stretch yourself, learning from the experts in the field.

Taking advantage of online resources. Handouts and recordings of sessions may be available on the conference website after you’ve registered. Some events are even offered virtually for conference attendees to view at a later date. This may help you decide which sessions to skip.

Considering which learning approaches. Different formats work better for different goals. While panels might be a great place to discuss innovations and trends, a speaker focusing on case studies offers real life problems and solutions.

Picking alternatives. If a session you chose is full you have a back-up choice ready. If a presentation turns out not to be what you wanted, you can discreetly leave after a few minutes and go to your second choice.


4. Make the most of free time at the conference.

Besides attending presentations and networking events, take opportunities to interact and exchange business cards during breaks between sessions, at lunch and while walking through exhibit areas.
Based on your goals for the conference:

  • Decide who you would like to meet and try to sit at their table during lunch. Often there is a presenters’ table, so if you can’t sit there, at least you can easily find them.
  • Seek out new, like-minded people to connect with, rather than associating only with work colleagues.
  • Take frequent breaks, drink lots of water and consider taking one evening off to recuperate so that you’ll be better prepared for the next day’s activities.

The opportunities for development and connecting with new industry contacts at conferences like ATD are endless, so plan ahead to make sure you take advantage of as many as possible.

Follow Discovery Learning on Twitter and if you plan to attend the Association for Talent Development Conference, make sure to follow the ATD Conference Hashtag: #ADT2016.

And Don’t forget to download out free Conference Planning Worksheet by clicking here.