The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Best of the Blogosphere: Tips to Make Your Conference Experience Matter

header-eventsI’m getting ready to pack my bags and head off to Salt Lake City, Utah to attend the CUPA-HR Western Region Conference. That means conference season is upon us and whether you’re going to a CUPA-HR regional conference, getting ready for the association’s annual conference in Las Vegas in October or attending another event, you’ll want to make sure you’re prepared to make the most out of your time (and money).

One thing I have learned is that every veteran conference-goer has a few tips and tricks up their sleeve. While I may not quite be a conference pro yet, I have picked up a few things along the way. I compiled a quick list of my favorites to help us make it through our upcoming conferences with flying colors.

  1. Over at, author, consultant and blogger Scott Allen shares a pretty comprehensive list of tips.What stands out to me is: Read their stuff.Allen suggests seeking out the works of active bloggers, authors and Twitter users who will be presenting at the conference. Not only will this help you get to know those professionals before you go to the conference and perhaps enhance your understanding while you’re there, but it will also help you extend the impact of the conference by providing year-round resources.For the upcoming CUPA-HR conferences, there are plenty of speakers who have a presence online:
    • Leading Edge Coaches Carol Grannis and Cindy Maher: @LeadingEdgeCO (Keynote presenters at the Western Region and Midwest Region conferences)
    • Craig Zablocki, who will be speaking at the Eastern Region Conference, connects with fans and followers via Facebook.
    • Author and HR guru Dave Ulrich (@dave_ulrich) and  Charlayne Hunter-Gault (@CharlayneHG), journalist and the first black women admitted to the University of Georgia will both be keynote presenters at the annual conference in October.
  2. HR pro, Allison Vaillancourt (past president of CUPA-HR), has a great list of conference tips on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s blog, On Hiring.Here’s a sample: Get to know the corporate sponsors.Exhibitor and corporate partners who attend conferences can be a wealth of knowledge and they’re usually more than happy to share information with you. Instead of just stopping by to enter for door prizes, stay a minute and ask some questions. Vaillancourt suggests asking them about trends facing their industry. Who knows? You just might learn something that could be applied to your area of expertise. And while you may not think you need their advice or services immediately, it is always nice to have that connection tucked in your back pocket should the need arise in the future.
  3. Irina Kremin has an entire blog dedicated to conference tips. She spreads it around, giving advice to attendees, exhibitors and presenters.Here’s one: Make a strategy and put it on paper.With so many things going on at conferences, it’s great to go in with a battle plan, so to speak. That plan will help you make the most of your time at a conference. Kremin suggests answering questions such as: What is my mission and main goal? If you put it down on paper, you’ll be more likely to stick to your strategy and stay focused on the mission at hand. Throughout the day, take notes and then each afternoon during a break or evening — before the social event, networking at the hotel bar, or going out on the town — revisit your strategy and organize your notes in the context of your strategy. This way when you return home, you’ll be able to see what you accomplished, learned, thought about and took away — and be able to better articulate these to your colleagues and your boss.
  4. The last tip I’ll share is from Lou Dubois at who hands out a lot of great advice in his blogpost.This tip is simple, but powerful: Networking Strategy.Dubois suggests resisting the urge to hand out business cards to every single person you meet. Instead, he advises exchanging contact information only with those people who you really make a connection with. Writing quick notes to yourself on the back of a business card you get (to help you remember what you talked about with that person) is also a great tip! Personally, I am terrible with names, so these notes are the only way I am able to keep new connections and conversations straight. Sometimes I’ll even snap a picture of the business card on my phone and text or email myself the pic along with bullet points of what we discussed. Dubois suggests reviewing the cards when you return to your hotel room each night, and I think this is a great idea. Think of the mark you can make if the next day you run into someone you met the day before and are not only able to address them by name but are also able to pick up the conversation where you left off or reflect on something that sparked your interest in the initial conversation.

If you will be in Salt Lake City for the Western Region Conference in a few weeks or Charlotte for the Southern Region Conference at the end of April, I look forward to seeing you there. Safe travels and happy conferencing!