How often do you attend conferences? Last week I was in Sydney speaking at the Retailer’s Essential Guide to E-Retailing, part of the Online Retailers Conference & E-Commerce Expo. I was invited to speak by John Debrincat, CEO at eCorner, the workshop sponsor. John and I have known each other for years, often meeting when one or both of us is presenting. As we watched people file into the room, I wanted to hand everyone a little instruction card on how to get the most out of John’s workshop – one they paid to attend.

I rarely see attendees get the full benefit of a presentation. Often these events have a cost attached so you’re making an investment in both time and money to be there. I can tell you from personal experience most speakers labour over their presentation and hope you go away with better information or insight you didn’t have before you arrived. While these tips may sound obvious, plenty of attendees I encounter at my speaking events don’t take them into consideration.

Six things you can do it improve the return on your investment:

1. Arrive early – Allow plenty of time to battle traffic, find parking and source a cup of coffee before the start of the presentation. Conference organisers put pressure on the speakers to start and end on time. If you slide in right on time or even a few minutes late, you’re likely to miss a portion of the first talk.

2. Sit in the front – It’s always interesting to me to watch the back of the room full up first. The best experience is front and centre of the room. Remember you’re at a live performance, the closer you are the better. I don’t know anyone that goes to the theatre and insists on sitting in the back row.

3. Ask questions – Believe me, you will not be viewed as a dolt if you ask a question. The presenter will love you for it. I can guarantee other people in the room are wondering the same thing. There’s nothing better than an interactive presentation so don’t hesitate to be the first one to raise your hand.

4. Chat with the speaker – Conference and workshop organisers work hard to find people with the right expertise to speak. The speaker has invested a fair amount of time preparing the presentation and getting ready for the event. Once they’re away from the podium, take advantage of the opportunity to speak to them directly. People that speak in public generally enjoy being around people and are very happy to chat, in depth, on their topic. It’s a chance for you to get some free consulting.

5. Network with the other attendees – At big events, you may only know one or two other people in the room, if anyone at all. Make good use of your breaks and introduce yourself to someone you don’t know. It’s an excellent way to get new ideas and hear how other people are facing the same challenges you have. It’s also a great way to extend your business relationships.

6. Review the material when you get home– I’m guilty of this myself – you attend a big event and come home loaded with information. You also come back to a desk bursting with things to do. It’s easy to let your conference material languish. Schedule time to go through everything you’ve been given. The supporting collateral prepared by the speakers often has extremely valuable nuggets of information you can put to immediate use in your work.

One extra thing you can do to help the speaker
Before you leave the workshop, conference or presentation, make sure you fill out the feedback form. Standing up in front of a crowd is often a one-way street. The feedback forms provide extremely valuable insight to the speakers and organisers on how to improve for the next time. As long as the criticism is constructive, it will be entirely welcome. It’s not as important for you to leave your name or contact details as it is to provide an honest review of the day’s events.

What’s your advice for getting more out of a conference experience?

Image Credit: dan /