I still remember, with embarrassment, the first conference I attended as a professional. I sat in the back of each breakout session, focused on taking notes, and disappeared into my hotel room during the breaks. I thought I was there to learn from the speakers, and I did ... and that’s about all I did!

Nowadays, I know that conferences and live events are about SO much more than simply learning powerful content from great speakers. I have also learned that the old cliche rings true: You get out of it what you put into it.

With a bit of foresight and intentionality, you can make your next conference, class or training event a wonderful experience in personal and professional growth. Here are five ways to make the most of the events you attend this year:


1. Do your homework.

Check out the speakers’ books, websites and blogs prior to the event. Connect with them on social media and start a conversation. Jot down a few notes so you can frame your thoughts, ask informed questions, and connect on a closer level at the event (see No. 3 below).


2. Connect with other attendees.

This is where I really missed the boat at that first conference. Reach out to those at your table (and by all means move around to different tables throughout the event!). Build relationships over meals. Remember, you’re surrounded by people with a common interest, so you have an automatic conversation topic. You might just find your next affiliate partner, expert resource, future client or friend.


3. Connect with the speaker(s).

More often than not, the speaker is open to meeting you, responding to your questions, signing your books, or at least hearing your compliments on her presentation. Don’t assume that just because someone is on stage that he or she is unapproachable. Do your homework (see No. 1) then open a dialogue.


4. Check out the local scene.

Prior to your trip, research the city a bit. What landmarks or hot spots do you want to see? What businesses could you arrange to tour? What LinkedIn connections live in that town that you might meet for coffee? If you can arrange to stay an extra day, make the most of it by planning potential activities in advance.


5. Set goals.

I was once told to set a goal for the number of business cards I wanted to collect at an event. Although that can help boost a person out of her shell, it didn’t feel very authentic to me. I’m more about developing relationships than counting cards. But you can set goals that match your personality. Maybe you want to meet at least 10 new people, or learn three new strategies that you will implement immediately, or arrange a few coffee dates to learn more about your event’s speakers.

You can still retreat to your room to re-energize and enjoy some alone time, too - did I just hear a collective “Whew” from the introverts?

Use these tips to make sure your next event is a worthwhile investment of your time and money. You’ll learn more, grow more, and have a lot more fun this way. 

Dr. Christi Hegstad is executive coach and president of MAP Professional Development Inc. Connect with Dr. Christi at www.meaning-and-purpose.com and on Facebook and Twitter.