I remember the first article I wrote for the Financial Planning Association. I had just attended an FPA national conference and gotten so much out of it. Based on the feedback I had provided regarding the event, FPA asked me to write about how to have a better conference experience. As I’m currently attending a conference, it’s the perfect time to revisit this topic.
I’ve heard many financial advisers say that if they get even one new idea from a conference they attend, they’re satisfied. Really? With all the conferences you likely attend each year, that’s a pretty low expectation. If you’re ready to raise the bar, here are seven tips to help increase the value you get from your next conference.
1) Prepare in advance. At a minimum, read the agenda carefully and make a conscious decision about which sessions you most want to attend. Avoid going to a session simply because it seems popular or your friends are attending.
2) Participate. Come armed with the questions you want answers to. If the questions aren’t addressed, ask them. Most speakers love questions that round out their presentations and make their content come alive for their audience.
Don’t forget to tweet during the conference as well. Conference-related hashtags are usually provided. Get involved and let your voice be heard.
3) Network. Decide whom you want to network with most. If the topic of a presentation was particularly compelling, talk with the speaker afterwards to see if you can set up a time to discuss it more in depth. Aim to collect e-mail addresses or connect on LinkedIn so you can follow up with individuals after the conference.
4) Take pictures. Keep clients up to date on what you’re doing by taking photographs and posting them to your website and social media pages. It’s in your clients’ best interest to know what you’re doing to advance your knowledge—and the service you provide to them.
5) Practice putting away your phone. Smartphones are a constant distraction. Seize the opportunity to practice putting away your phone for 30 minutes, then 60 minutes, then 90 minutes. You’ll be surprised at how much you can learn when you’re able to focus exclusively on the people in front of you.
6) Be healthy. It’s easy to forsake your normal, healthy habits when attending a conference. Make sure you get enough rest, watch your diet, minimize your alcohol intake and get some exercise—even if it’s just a quick walk around the block.
7) Share what you learned. Schedule time to debrief your colleagues and staff with key insights and take-aways when you return to the office. They will appreciate the information and help to put your learnings into action.
I was at Commonwealth Financial Network’s annual National Conference from November 6 to November 11. And as I prepared my own presentations and got ready to attend a keynote address from President George W. Bush himself, I was able to put the above ideas into practice myself!
Joni Youngwirth is managing principal of practice management at Commonwealth Financial Network in Waltham, Mass.