Conferences provide an excellent opportunity to network, build relationships, and generally enhance your career.
But there are so many options—and each one can ask a lot in terms of resources, time, and energy.
"New conferences are announced almost every day, but you can realistically only attend a select few per year," says Dorie Clark, a marketing strategist, professional speaker, Duke University Fuqua School of Business teacher, and author of "Reinventing You" and "Stand Out."
Here are four questions to help you decide whether to attend a conference, based on Clark's advice in a recent Harvard Business Review article.
1. Where am I in my career?
At the beginning of your career, you should see conferences as opportunities to meet new people.
As you grow professionally, networking opportunities often come to you instead, so you can be more selective about which conferences you attend.
"In the early days... its's useful to err on the side of saying yes... more often," writes Clark.
2. Do I have a well-rounded network?
Clark recommends balancing your professional network between two types of social capital: "bonding capital," which represents your connections with people similar to you, and "bridging capital," which is your connections with different types of people.
If most of your professional connections are within your industry, or with people who share your interests, consider attending a conference where you'll meet people outside of your industry.
On the other hand, if most of your connections are outside your workplace or industry, consider attending a conference that's geared toward your career.
Once you're at the event, here's how to make the most of it
3. Do I have time to plan for it properly?
Since conferences usually require you to take two to five days off of work, Clark says it is important to make your arrangements about six months in advance.
Arrangements to consider include:
- Registering for the conference (spots can fill up fast);
- Booking travel arrangements; and
- Booking accommodations.
4. Are there speakers or attendees I want to meet?
"The best conference experiences don't happen by accident," writes Clark. "You make them great with planning and effort."
For each conference, Clark suggests looking up the speakers and attendees, which are often available online.
Once you know who plans to attend, you can choose the people you want to speak with most and invite them to coffee or a dinner with other attendees. Clark says this will ensure that you "get to spend time with people you find interesting" (Clark, Harvard Business Review, 1/10).
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