By Vicki Voisin, ACP
Continuing education and networking are vital to career success. Opportunities for both are available when you attend a convention, conference or seminar.
With the opportunity, though, comes an investment of time, energy and money. You may even have to use your precious vacation days to be there. In the grand scheme of career advancement, this is all worthwhile but you must be sure you make the most of your time while you’re there.
Here are a 5 strategies to get the greatest return on your investment:
1) Get the details out of the way early. As soon as you decide you will attend an event, set up a file for all the miscellaneous information you will receive. Then send in your registration and make your airline reservations or other travel plans. Next, make your hotel reservations so that you meet the deadline for special room rates.
What will you wear? Find out how you’re expected to dress. Will business casual work? Will you need something for the closing banquet? Is a costume suggested for a reception? And remember, regardless of the convention location (i.e. New Orleans in July), you should bring along a sweater or jacket because meeting rooms are notoriously cold in spite of the outside temperature.
2) Bring these supplies:
Business cards. You’ll be exchanging business cards with convention attendees and also providing them to vendors so you’ll want to be sure to have a good supply with you. If your employer does not provide them, either print your own or order them yourself. I highly recommend www.vistaprint.com for ease of ordering, prompt service and their many f.r.e.e offers.
A notebook. You should bring one notebook for all your seminars and workshops. This is for your notes and your ‘to do’ list for when you return home. Who will you want to thank? Who will you want to congratulate? Having all your notes in one place will help you to be more organized later.
Your ‘Seminar Tool Bag’. This should include a small notepad, index cards, business cards, two pens and anything else you think you might need. I also suggest adding granola bars, lip balm, sticky notes, tissues, mints, a camera and, perhaps, your favorite tea bags.
3) Pick up your registration materials soon as you arrive. This is your chance to go through the meeting materials and familiarize yourself with the convention schedule…where you have to be and when. Put your name tag in a place where you can always find it when you leave your room. If you have tickets for lunches or dinners, put those in a safe place, too.
Sometimes a list of attendees is provided. Review that to see who you already know and whom you’d like to meet.
4) Meet as many new people as you can. Sure…you’re going to have a lot of old friends at the Conference that you really want to catch up. Avoid spending all of your time with them, though…branch out and welcome those ‘first timers’.
Start practicing right now: put out your hand and say “Hi, my name is and I’m not sure we’ve met.” Was that so hard? No! Be sure to march up to as many people as you can and introduce yourself. They may be having a difficult time doing the same and will be grateful that you’ve taken the first step.
It’s very easy to get a conversation started with comments like ‘What do you think about so and so?’ or ‘How has X or Y affected your job?’ or “How is the job market in your region?’ You are asking someone for their advice or wisdom and you will always be able to make a connection. Every single person at convention has an interesting story. Be prepared to seek them out.
5) Visit the vendors. Vendors come with loads of interesting information regarding their programs and products. They also contribute to the cost of the convention, helping to keep your own costs down. Be sure to visit their booths, give them your full attention, and then make every effort to utilize their services once you’re home. For instance, I always use a local court reporting business when I’m scheduling depositions in my state. When I have to go out of state, I call SetDepo simply because I know they support my convention.
Also, if you read my article titled “F’ree Clutter v Clutter F’ree” that was published in the November 2007 issue of Facts & Findings, you know that I advocate never taking a give-away from a vendor unless you can use it. If that yo yo or stress relief ball is just going to gather dust in your office, you don’t need it. Your luggage is probably already filled to the max anyway.
Bonus Tip: Do something neat in your destination city. You may not have a lot of time for sightseeing, but be sure to visit at least one of the city’s distinguishing features and have dinner in a memorable restaurant. If you don’t, you might as well stay home and get your continuing education over the Internet.
A word of caution. You may view the convention as a vacation but that doesn’t mean you’re there to party down. If your firm or your association has paid your expenses, you have an obligation to attend the meetings and educational events. Remember that your behavior will reflect on your firm or association, so closing the hotel bar every night is definitely not a good idea.
The wrap-up. Do have a wonderful time at your conference or convention. As soon as you return home, take an evening to wrap up loose ends: write those notes to people who want to thank or congratulate, tally your expenses and submit them for reimbursement, and start your file for ‘Convention 2009.’ Place the list of attendees for this year’s convention in the file, along with any brochures you brought home with you. Let the planning beginning!
©2010 Vicki Voisin, Inc.
Do you want to use this article in your newsletter, ezine or Web site? You can so long as you include this entire blurb with it: Vicki Voisin, “The Paralegal Mentor”, delivers simple strategies for paralegals and other professionals to create success and satisfaction by achieving goals and determining the direction they will take their careers. Vicki spotlights resources, organizational tips, ethics issues, and other areas of continuing education to help paralegals and others reach their full potential. She publishes a weekly ezine titled Paralegal Strategies and co-hosts The Paralegal Voice, a monthly podcast produced by Legal Talk Network. More information is available at www.paralegalmentor.com