Get the Most Out of Your Conference Experience

In the past I’ve talked about how continuing your education by earning certifications and participating in mentoring programs can be beneficial to your career. Another important form of continuing education is attending a professional conference. Conferences should be a fun, engaging experience where you learn new skills and make professional contacts. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your next professional conference.

Personal Development Plan
Before you go to the conference, spend some time reviewing the program and choosing the sessions you want to attend. Think about this in the context of your career goals. Write down what you want to achieve in the next few years (e.g., job change, promotion, etc.). Then do a self-assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, and choose sessions that will help you address the needs you have identified.

Continuing Education10492588_10152329086225829_6431722515604022926_n

I’m a huge advocate of lifelong continuing education, and conferences are great learning forums. Conference sessions offer a variety of educational opportunities and, depending on your area of interest, can include discussions of top industry trends, how-to sessions, and motivational presentations. Not only can you learn from leading experts in the field, but you can also get inspired by hearing motivational life stories.

Attending the session is only the first step. What is perhaps even more important is applying what you learned on the job. That is how you reinforce what you’ve learned, improving your skills and helping you be more effective in your job.

Networking
There are so many opportunities for networking at conferences. It can be intimidating at first to start a conversation with someone you don’t know, but when you do, you’ll be proud of yourself for stepping out of your comfort zone. You might also make a valuable contact who will help you a great deal in your career, solve a current business problem, or offer career advice.

10458451_10152330358455829_6042484930867715104_nNetworking is also about helping others. Your knowledge and experience is valuable, and sharing it with someone else could help them in their job and perhaps help them advance their career. And you might also make a lifelong friend! Many of the attendees of conferences I attend, including IMA’s Annual Conference & Expo, became friends when they met at the conference. Conferences almost always build in time for social activities that keep it fun.

Many conferences now have mobile apps that allow you to not only plan your session attendance on your mobile device but also connect with other attendees both before and after the event.

Something for Everyone
Conferences are offered in nearly every area of interest. I attend IMA’s Annual Conference & Expo nearly every year and find it to be a great way to stay current in the field of management accounting. Every couple of years, I also attend conferences for testing professionals and association management, since I have to stay current in those fields as well. Attending conferences helps me stay connected with the latest industry trends and techniques and to other professionals in the field.

If you haven’t been to a conference yet, I encourage you do so as soon as you can. When you ask your boss for approval, be prepared. Show him or her which sessions you plan to attend and what skills and resources you intend to bring back to your job. IMA’s Annual Conference & Expo is coming up in June, and we can’t wait!

Written by Dennis Whitney, CMA, CFM, CAE
Follow me on twitter: @IMA_DWhitney

Related Articles:
“6 Secrets to Better Networking at Conferences” – Dave Kerpen, LinkedIn
“4 Reasons Your Employees Should Attend Conferences” – Janine Popick, Inc. Magazine

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