How to Get the Most Bang for Your Buck at a Convention, Conference or Seminar

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 few tips that will help you get the greatest return on your investment: 

Get the details out of the way early. As soon as you decide you’ll attend an event, set up a file for all the miscellaneous information you’ll 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.

Be sure you bring 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 doesn’t provide them, either print your own or order them yourself. I highly recommendwww.vistaprint.com for ease of ordering, prompt service and their many f.r.e.e offers.

Hint: If you’re unemployed, bring cards anyway. Design some with a clever phrase or two that highlight your expertise and experience. You never know where this will lead.

Hint: Make notes on the back of the business cards you collect to help you remember the person and what you might like to follow up with them about later.

Bring 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.

Pick up your registration materials as 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.

Hint:  If a list of attendees is provided, review that to see whom you already know and whom you’d like to meet.

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.

Meet as many new people as you can. Start practicing right now: put out your hand and say “Hi, my name is Vicki 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.

Hint: 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 or advice 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.

Hint: Networking may offer you the most value from your conference. Please don’t waste this opportunity by just hanging out with people you already know.

Hint: Don’t pull out your cell phone and spend every break making calls. Take advantage of breaks to do some more networking.

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.

Hint: If you read my article titled “Free Clutter v Clutter Free” 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 yoyo 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.

Watch what you eat and drink and try to get some exercise. You’ll be attending receptions and early-morning ‘breakfasts’ where the much of the food is high in calories. Try to make good choices as in fruit and vegetables over chips and dip. Would you eat that Danish at home? Probably not…choose the bagel instead. As always, drink in moderation so you’re up and alert for the next morning’s educational events.

Hint: Try to take at least a half hour every day to visit the hotel exercise room or to go for a brisk walk. A walk (or even a run) is an excellent way to see some of the city, too.

 

This is not the time to relive your college Spring Break! 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. As soon as you return from your conference, 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!

Your challenge: First, prepare a “Seminar Tool Bag” that includes a notepad, notebook, business cards, two pens and anything else you think you might need. I’d also add granola bars, lip balm, sticky notes, tissues, mints, a camera and, perhaps, your favorite tea bags. Next, head to your convention and have a great time!

© 2009 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 bi-weekly ezine titled Strategies for Paralegals Seeking Excellence. More information is available atwww.paralegalmentor.com