In a world where we're bombarded with email, it's disproportionately effective to connect with people face to face. Conferences, if you choose them wisely, can be one of the best ways to accelerate this process, since you can meet large numbers of people in just a few days.
Here are five strategies you can use to identify the best conferences for you to attend this year and to make time for them.
First, it’s important to understand where you are in your career. When you’re just starting out (in the work world or in a new career), it’s important to prioritise networking and meeting new people. As you gain seniority, more opportunities will come to you, and you can become more selective about the events you attend.
But in the early days you never know which opportunities will pan out, so it’s useful to err on the side of saying “yes” – to conferences, workshops and networking events – more often.
Next, you’ll want to balance your bonding and bridging capital. Successful professionals must cultivate a mix of what sociologists call “bonding capital” (connections with people like yourself) and “bridging capital” (connections with people who are different).
Think about your 50 closest professional relationships. If almost all of them are at your company or in your industry, you may want to explore conferences that bring together diverse groups, such as TED or your local TEDx gathering. Conversely, if your ties inside your industry are weak, consider attending events sponsored by your regional or national professional association.
View your conference attendance aspirationally, as a chance to connect with the people whom you wish to have as your peers in the future.
It’s not always easy to take time off for conferences, which usually require anywhere from two to five days away, depending on travel time. That’s why – if you’re serious about prioritising them – it’s essential to register far in advance. That allows you to secure affordable flights. It also ensures you can find acceptable accommodation, which books up fast for large conferences.
Along similar lines, if you need to request time off work, do so as soon as possible – and before finalising your arrangements. This will help ensure your trip doesn’t get derailed by last-minute crises.
Finally, the best conference experiences don’t happen by accident; you make them great with planning and effort. If you know in advance who will be attending, you can reach out and invite people you know, even if they’re solely online connections, to meet up for coffee or a group dinner.
New conferences are announced almost every day, but you can realistically only attend a few per year. With the strategies above, you can make sound choices about how to identify and prioritise where you want to spend your time – and who you want to meet, and become, in the process. – Copyright Harvard Business Review 2017
Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist and professional speaker who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.