Kathleen Drum’s guide to getting the most from a conference
Executive Support Live is, in my opinion, the best conference for Assistants. When you attend a conference related to your profession or area of expertise, you have the opportunity to mix with internationally and nationally known leaders in the field – and Executive Support LIVE certainly provides those!
Of course, in a perfect world, you would spend the days leading up to the conference reading the pre-conference material, connecting with and discussing the conference online with your fellow delegates; reading up on the presenters and checking out their websites and books. You would have revisited your business case to remind yourself what learning points you’ll bring back to the office. Business cards will be ready, clothes and accessories for both the day and evening will be packed in advance. You’ll arrive at the conference venue calm and relaxed, ready to learn and network with your peers with all thoughts of work left behind and the focus fully on you.
In the real world, you’re running around trying to fit five days work into four and ensuring the office and your Exec can function without you whilst you attend day 1 of the conference. Then, of course, there is organising your personal life so that your home and family don’t implode with you away for conference day 2. Finally, due to the capriciousness of London transport (sometimes amazing, sometimes not) you arrive at the venue barely in time for a cup of tea or coffee before heading into the conference itself (having once again checked your phone to make sure everything is alright at home and work).
Even if you haven’t had much time to prepare, all is not lost. You can still regroup and enjoy your conference experience. Whether this is your first time or you are a veteran, there are always new things to learn and new people to meet. But, first things first – it’s time (as the Disney song says), to Let It Go. You have put in place contingency plans for both home and office, so trust them.
Turn off your phone.
The next two days are all about you and your profession.
Take a moment to remember why you wanted to attend the conference. If you haven’t attended a conference before and don’t know what to expect, your objectives could quite simply be “to be open to new experiences and participate to the best of my ability” or “to connect with three people I didn’t know before the conference” or “to implement two new learning points into my daily routine as soon as I return to the office”. Having an objective will help you concentrate and focus.
Remember to take the day(s) one session at a time. Each speaker, and therefore each session, has a rhythm of their own. Be present in the moment. Make notes if it helps, but try and summarise them into one key action. If you like what you hear and want to learn more, you can always buy the speaker’s book, follow them on social media or sign up for one of their webinars or courses post-conference.
Coffee breaks, lunchtime and the gala dinner are perfect times for getting to know your fellow attendees. If you are new to networking, the conference is a great place to start. You are in a room of like-minded people, all of whom are interested in learning and are there because they want to be there. You can start a conversation about the sessions that have just finished or the sessions about to begin and, before you know it, you will have made a new connection.
Of course, the learning doesn’t stop when the conference ends. In order to make things “stick”, you need time to reflect on what you have learned. With the travel home and the scramble back to work on Monday, it is all too easy to put the conference folder on a shelf and leave it to gather dust for another year. However, from your action points for each session, you will have a roadmap of what to do first. Carve out some time at lunch, or on your commute, and embed the learning into your day. If your company has paid for you to attend, this also gives you an opportunity to show that it was worth it. Don’t forget to follow up on any connections you’ve made – this doesn’t have to be done straight away, but it does need to be done.
Finally, spend some time reflecting on the joy of meeting fellow professionals who think like you. You are now part of a worldwide tribe of Assistants committed to moving themselves and the profession forward.
Bring on the next conference!