Last week I attended the most outstanding conference, one dedicated for women in social media:
In the end, it was educational, fun, inspiring, relevant, and motivating -- all the things you want a conference to be. I've got to admit, while I was making my initial plans to attend, I wasn't all that confident on how it was all going to turn out. There were way too many loose ends lurking around. Stuff like, Who were my roommates? Were the classes going to be what I was looking for? What was the food going to be like? Who would I hang out with? And the all important, How was I going to get home? I've attended a ton of conferences in the past but they were all business related. A secretary made the arrangements, I traveled with co-workers, schedules were set. All I had to do was show up. This time around, my conference opportunity was left entirely up to me. I had to make some personal decisions ahead of time that would determine just how much I was going to glean from the experience. It wasn't always easy but I persevered. The result: one of the most awesome experiences I have ever had. Here are some tips I learned along the way that made all the difference in creating a successful conference experience.
1. Be Brave
If you don't decide to try something new, learn something new, go somewhere new, then what is the point of spending hundreds of dollars going to a conference? Start off right from the beginning with the attitude that the conference is going to be amazing and if you want that amazing to rub off, you are going to have to get out of your normal routine and stretch a bit.
I've only been to Park City twice before, never to the host venue, The Canyons Resort, I had an address and got a ride from my son's friends. They dropped me off at the location and went on their way. Unfortunately, the address was incorrect. I was left at the wrong resort!!! After wandering around a couple of hotels trying to find the right place, I was told that The Canyons was on the other side of town. When I explained that I had no transportation, the receptionist told me I could take the city bus. So I loaded me, my roller suitcase and my laptop on to the bus for a 15 minute ride across town. The bus dropped me off at the bottom of the mountain where The Canyons was located. Lucky for me, I was able to board a nearby gondola that whisked me up the mountain to the resort. I was then directed to take myself, my roller suitcase, and my laptop computer down two flights of stairs to the hotel lobby. All the while I kept saying to myself, "Don't freak out. Enjoy the adventure." I was about as brave as it gets. You've got to admit: that was some start to my conference experience.
2. Be Friendly
Part of the experience of a successful conference is to meet new people. Most people aren't naturally going to go out of their way to introduce themselves so you need to decide that you will be that kind of person. Adopt the mantra, "A stranger is just a friend I haven't met yet." Smile. Keep your head high and look people in the eye. Find common ground to keep a conversation going. It's not about you. It's about getting acquainted with other people who share your same interests and passions.
I didn't know one person of the 350 attendees attending this conference. Including my roommates. I just put out a request on the evo'12 Facebook page that I was looking for someone to share a room with to help cut down on costs. Luckily, Carissa R. picked up my request soon after I posted and offered me a space in the suite she was putting together. I accepted her kind offer and the rest was history. I ended up in a room with the most spectacular, talented, awesome women I could ever hope to meet. They were smart and witty and helpful in sharing with me their vast knowledge. We were all from totally different places around the country, we all had totally different backgrounds and life experiences, but we respected each other and got along famously. It was a perfect arrangement. Who would have guessed?
@kruegersusan, @themidlifeguru, @mooshinindy, @lucrecerbraxton, @carissarogers, @queenscarlett, @chrysula3. Network
Introduce yourself every chance you get. Bring a ton of business cards to give away so that your new friends will remember who you are and will be able to stay in touch long after the conference is over. Always be looking for ways to mention who you are, where you are from, and what you do. Making connections is the key to your future success. Here is a list of the incredible sponsors I met that supported evo'12:
4. Know Your Stuff
Every conference supplies a program guide. Study it before you leave home to get an idea of what is being offered. Make your class choices ahead of time so that you can anticipate what you want to be learning. Change if necessary once you get the feel for your event.
I marked in my conference guide everything I wanted to participate in: meet ups, meals, activities, classes. I got familiar with the rooms where the events were located so that I wouldn't get lost. I almost changed the last class I was going to attend but as I waited for the new class to start, it just didn't feel right. I decided to go with my heart and attend the class I had originally picked back at home. That was the right decision as my original choice was amazing.
5. Expect the Unexpected
No matter how well you plan, something crazy will undoubtedly come up. Don't stress out. Just go with the flow and chalk it up to another scene in your great adventure.
On the second night of the conference, there was a power outage in Park City!! The whole town went black. How cool is that? The Canyons was great through the whole ordeal. The management went to Salt Lake City and bought every glow stick they could find to give to all the guests. The party for that night went on as scheduled, darkness and all. Later, a bunch of women came to our hotel room to eat and laugh and talk as we waited for the lights to come back on. Meeting new people in the dark is quite the experience.
Attending a conference requires a lot of sitting and that makes your brain tired. Get moving. Before the day starts, take advantage of the in-house gym. Go for walks during the breaks. End your day with a few stretches. And by all means, drink lots of water.
evo'12 included some fun exercise classes for participants to workout. I went to both the Zumba and yoga classes that were offered. Another fun way to meet like minded people. It was totally worth getting up for these 6:30 a.m. activities.
7. Do Something Out of the Ordinary
Find something during the conference that you wouldn't normally be doing if you were at home. Is there a historical site or museum near by you can visit? What about a class that has nothing to do with what you came looking for? Take advantage of something unique. After all, who knows if you will ever come this way again.
I took a break from the information type classes that I am more comfortable with (I love to take notes) and instead went to a workshop that showed how I could tap into my passions, create a life list, and move forward on my personal path. I appreciated the time to ponder and reflect and it validated that I had chosen the right path for my blogging endeavors.
The last night, for the closing party, the conference switched venues to the Park City Mountain Resort. I'm not normally the adventurous type but decided to throw it all to the wind and go down a zip line. Now, that was thrilling!!!
I hope the next time you go to a conference, you try out my little tips. I promise, if you do, it will turn your so-so conference in to a great conference you will always remember.
P.S. I did make it back to my home base in Provo when it was all over. The first night at evo'12, I met Lindsey P. who just happened to live near where I needed to be. We became friends, hung out at the closing party, and she gave me a lift home. See. Everything worked out just fine.