Summertime is conference time for many people. Maybe you’re one of those who’s planning to attend and benefit from a conference in the coming months. I know I am – including a writer’s conference in June. (Since you’re reading my blog post, maybe you’re hoping the conference will improve my writing!)
Conferences are great. You get to meet new people, connect with old friends, learn, grow, get motivated, and hopefully improve some aspect of life or work. But conferences can also be a disappointment. Too often the motivational high and crystal clarity we have during the conference give way to energy doldrums and cloudy confusion within a week of returning home. We get back to the grind and soon the goodness of the conference is ground right out of us. In fact, some studies show that performance after a conference actually diminishes over the long run.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Conference highs don’t have to be followed by real world woes. Here are seven ways you can get more from your next conference (or help those you coach do so):
- Think about the Long Run. Ask yourself how the conference fits into your overall journey. When you visualize out two, five, or ten years, you will see the conference in a new perspective. While you may not be able to connect the conference to specific long-term goals or outcomes, thinking about he long run will help to place the conference into the sweep of the story you are in and help you envision how the conference can serve the story you are in.
- Come with Questions. If you want to get the most from a conference, prepare by writing down the most pressing questions you face related to the conference topic before you get to the conference. In fact, this is also a great way to determine whether a conference is a good fit for you. If you don’t have three to five pressing questions that should be addressed by the conference, then you might want to skip it. To be clear, don’t just capture the pressing issues you face; be sure to articulate those into questions that invite answers. There is a big difference between “staffing issues” and “How do I lead my staff without coming across like a jerk?” A precise question begs for resolution.
- Enhance Big Ideas with Some “So What? Sauce.” Once you get to the conference, (hopefully) your brain will be bombarded with big ideas. Big ideas are good, but they become great when connected to something practical. To get the most from the conference, recognize the big ideas and ask yourself how you can turn this awesome brain spark into something practical. One way to do this is to isolate each big idea and rub it down with what I call some “So What? Sauce.” This means asking a series of “So what?” questions, such as: So what would this mean for our team? So what could I do with this idea? So what if I totally ignored this? So what is the best thing that could come from this? And of course, just plain old “So what?” Let these “So what?” questions push you to start connecting big ideas toward practical actions and outcomes.
- Take Action Immediately. The biggest obstacle to great conference results is lack of action. The reason so little action gets taken is that we wait until we get back from the conference to take action, so eliminate this obstacle by taking actions while at the conference. While the ideas are fresh, your motivation is high, and the decibel level from the real world is still relatively low, take advantage by taking action. Go back to your hotel room and do what you can do. Get on the phone and get the ball rolling. Set things in motion so that when you return home you don’t have to extend the mental and emotional energy needed to push the ignition button.
- Schedule a Review within One Week. If you’re like most people, the thing right in front of you is what gets your attention. So when you’re at the conference, you’re focused on the big picture and possibilities and all that good stuff. When you get home, the mundane takes over your mind and all that conference good stuff starts to fade away. To prevent this, schedule time on your calendar (two or three hours seems reasonable) to review your conference notes, action plans, follow up items, etc. Make this a calendar appointment with yourself and your ideas, and don’t give in to the temptation to break the appointment. After all, why invest hundreds (or thousands) of dollars to get great ideas from a conference and then not invest a couple of hours to make the most of it?
- Keep Your Leftovers Fresh. Great ideas feed your mind and soul, and some of the best lessons from the conference need to come home with you so you can keep the feast going for a long, long time. This is especially true if the conference inspired you to form a new habit, discipline or approach because those kinds of things take time to realize. To keep the best-of-the-best ideas from the conference fresh and front-of-mind, use a sticky note, desktop screen saver, pictures on your desk, a motto written on your dry erase board, or a symbolic relic placed on your desk. A relic could include a coffee mug, a stuffed animal, a seashell, a toy, or a household item. I have friend who came back from a leadership conference committed to exhibiting a leadership style that was more salt (enhancing, encouraging, Christ-like) than pepper (sharp, pungent, overwhelming) and reminded himself of his commitment by placing non-matching salt and pepper shakers on his desk.
- Work with a Coach. Okay, so you knew this one was coming, didn’t you? Conferences are worth their price when they lead to change, but change is hard. If you want to facilitate change for yourself, work with a coach. My sense is that if you invested $1,000 in the conference, you’d more than quadruple your return by investing another $1,000 for after-conference coaching. A coach is going to provide the structure and ongoing focus to help you translate the conference into real, positive change.
What about you?
What conferences are you planning to attend this year?
What’s your dream conference/topic?
What have you found helpful in making the most of conferences? Leave your comments below.