Seven ways to maximize your conference outcomes

Planning ahead, dividing the workload and sharing knowledge gained from attending a conference can maximize your results.

Over the last few years, I have attended some excellent conferences on fundraising and nonprofit development: Grantmakers Without Borders, Civicus World Assembly, Association of Fundraising Professionals, Women’s Funding Network and the Colorado Nonprofit Association, to name a few. I always come away feeling inspired but a little overwhelmed by the whirlwind of information and contacts I have collected. Sometimes I attend conferences to gain new skills and specific information to share with clients, and other times I attend to connect with my colleagues and meet new people. The benefits come from the real-time interactions, spontaneous meetings with people I may have only communicated with online, and the ability to share ideas immediately through various networks. For some of us, this amazing inflow of information compacted into a few days can be hard to process; fortunately, there are some creative ways to help us manage what we learn.

Seven tips

Below are seven strategies that conference attendees can use to effectively compile new information and maximize motivation:

1. Plan ahead and learn about the experts you’ll have the chance to hear from.
2. Don’t set limits on what you can do. You attend conferences to gain exposure to new concepts and new ways of doing things, so choose sessions that will introduce you to new ideas rather than those where you might feel the most comfortable.
3. Write a daily summary of what you learn.
4. Share all your thoughts and experiences with your colleagues. Pass ideas on to staff and board members and do not worry about how rough they seem. The content and conversations around them can inspire change.
5. If you’re attending the event with a team, “divide and conquer” the conference with colleagues for the most benefit to your organization.
6. Talk to people at the sessions you attend to create a network of new colleagues, and make notes on the back of the cards you collect right away.
7. Change something. Attending a conference will affect change because it gets you out of the office and away from the regular routine. While most think our work environments are dynamic and rapidly changing places, people fall into ruts. Use what you learn to change up your routine.

After the conference

The most important point to remember is if you don’t ask yourself what you’ve learned and organize your new ideas right away, your ability to inspire and influence your team will be lost. Instead, take a moment to ask yourself the questions below at the end of each day and draft your follow-up plan. Going to conferences shows your passion and interest in the field. Let people know you went. You will be surprised at how many people are interested and want to know more. Finally, information management is personal, and there is plenty of room for creativity. Just commit to doing something that channels your inspiration into action.

Questions to ask yourself

1) What was the most important and useful thing you learned today?
2) What old routine did you think of today that you want to get out of? If you can implement one positive change as a result of what you learned in a conference, you’ve succeeded in helping your organization prosper.
3) Whom did you meet today that you would like to follow up with and potentially collaborate with in the future?
4) What’s your plan to communicate what you learned today with your team, constituents or board members?

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