I don’t know about you, but for me Fall is conference season. It is my busiest season both as a presenter and as an attendee. In most cases, the events I attend are stacked back to back. Although this schedule can be challenging for the body, it is good for developing new insights.

As someone who attends several conferences each year, I have learned that all attendees (whether consumer or business professional) want to maximize their experience. In some cases it is about trying to reduce out-of-pocket expenses, in others it is about getting the most “bang” for the buck, and often it is both. Below are tried and true methods to maximize your conference experience both in terms of money saved and in time invested.

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Saving Money

When paying for a conference out of your own pocket, saving dollars always becomes just a bit more important.  Not all of these options are available for every conference, but keeping aware of the possible avenues for reducing expenses is the first step.

Book Early: Most every conference will have early bird pricing — take advantage of it. Not only does it save you money, it also helps the organizers plan appropriately and make necessary adjustments before the last minute.

Ask About Package Deals: Depending upon the type of conference you are attending, there might be deals based on a pre-set package such as some number of break-out sessions and one or two special events. Or if you are interested in attending several events hosted by the same organizer, they may have discounts for attending more than one in a given year.

Comparison Shop for Lodging: When all things are equal (or close to equal) I strongly encourage folks to stay at the conference hotel. If you book early, there is often a special rate that is significantly better than their “standard” rates. This is particularly true if you are flying in and the hotel offers a courtesy shuttle. If you are driving, staying a short distance away may save significant dollars.  Just remember to calculate any parking charges into the equation.

Travel with a Friend: If you are able to travel with a friend, sharing a room can be a significant savings. When driving, the benefits increase in terms of shared fuel costs, driving responsibilities and just having someone to keep you company in the car.

Be Creative for Meals: For some conferences, meals (or most meals) are included as part of the package price. However, if you are on your own for meals, consider making at least one meal low cost, no fuss by eating fruits or healthy snacks like a protein bar. Often you can pack these and bring them with you since purchasing these at the conference will still be rather pricey. Also consider not having large meals whenever possible; a salad and appetizer might do the trick for your appetite and your budget.

Our View of Time
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Saving Time

Regardless of who is picking up the cost of the conference, the time you spend there is yours. Investing time at a conference that doesn’t produce any real value is both frustrating and a waste. Even great conferences can lose their value if you are not able to retain or apply the knowledge in a usable manner. Everyone’s learning style, expectations and requirements are different, but most people should be able to apply at least a couple of these ideas for getting the most out of a conference.

Set a Goal / Make a Plan: Even before signing up for a conference it is best to have a “reason” to attend. It can be simple or somewhat more complex, but knowing your goal will make it so much easier to make choices. Then based on that goal, make a plan for structuring your conference schedule so that you can meet it. If you want to learn a lot of new information, take full advantage of educational opportunities. If your goals are more centered around meeting people, then leave time in your schedule for impromptu meetings. And don’t lose sight of your goal once you get to the conference – check your progress regularly and make adjustments as necessary.

Develop a Method of Keeping Notes: Everyone has their own favorite methods and tools for keeping track of new information. Whatever works for you, make sure it is always available to you at the conference. In some cases that might require editing or transcribing at the end of each day. The key to notes is that they are only useful if you know where to find them, can reference the information you are looking for, and actually know what you meant when you wrote them.

Know Thyself: This is one of my favorite phrases, but it is particularly important at a conference. Conferences are designed around the general public, and they don’t necessarily take your specific needs into account. If spending time with LOTS of people wears you out (which is true for many people) make sure to give yourself time alone to recharge (possibly several times each day). How do you best learn and retain information? Take advantage of opportunities that will use those techniques or create vehicles for yourself to facilitate your learning style. Dress as comfortably as you can while still being dressed appropriately for the event.

Manage Your Expectations: It has happened to many of us at one time or another: the conference, a speaker or a particular event just doesn’t measure up to our expectations.  Even if that is the case, there are most likely still valuable nuggets of knowledge and information to be mined. The trick is to not get so focused on the negative that you miss the valuable bits. If need be, adjust your expectations, re-evaluate your goals and update your plan. The money has been spent and your time invested; best to try and make the most of it!

Review, Analyze and Commit: Immediately following the conclusion of the conference, review your goal, your plan and your notes. If you are like me there will be a lot to process and way too much to actually implement. Instead, analyze all that has been learned over the conference and decide on a limited number of things to focus on in the near future (3 – 5 is reasonable). Then make a commitment to implement those ideas or skills. Once those are well established, repeat the process. Continue the cycle until you feel you have maximized the learning from the conference.

I know that there are lots of conference attendees out there. What are your tricks for maximizing a conference experience?