6 Tips for an Awesome Conference Experience

As a PR professional, I believe it's important to stay on top of your craft. Whether through a webinar, reading industry publications or attending a conference, being knowledgeable about trends, new methodologies and concepts is essential for you and your clients to be successful.

Equally important is learning about and understanding your clients' respective industries. Knowing the issues and challenges they are facing will help you provide thoughtful and effective strategic communications counsel.

To better serve my energy-related clients and achieve my goal of becoming an energy wonk, I recently attended a conference in Pittsburgh sponsored by the United States Association of Energy Economics (USAEE).

Unlike other conferences I've attended that have focused on shale oil and natural gas development, the USAEE conference ran the energy gamut from fossil fuels to renewables with topics as varied as electric cars, liquefied natural gas and energy geopolitics.

As the only communications person in a crowd of academics, economists and government representatives, I felt a little like I had crashed some brainy energy prom. Despite my fish-out-of-water anxiety, the information and research provided was incredibly valuable. I learned a lot and enjoyed viewing the various aspects of the energy industry through a different lens and perspective.

If you have an industry conference coming up, here are a few tips to make it an awesome experience.

  • Be Prepared
    Think about what you hope to achieve by attending the conference. My conference goal was to develop a broader understanding of different energy sources and the challenges facing the industry. With that objective in mind, I reviewed conference materials ahead of time to plan what sessions interested me and would help me achieve my goal.
  • Expand your Horizons
    Conferences are a great opportunity to dip a curious toe into a subject outside of your area of expertise. I attended a presentation about integrating renewables - solar and wind - into the electricity grid and learned that natural gas is commonly used to help maintain or "smooth" a steady energy supply if there is a significant fluctuation in supply and demand.
  • Be Engaged
    Actively participating in a conference by asking questions or even presenting can take the conference experience to a whole new level. If you're more introverted, take lots of notes and engage speakers post presentation with questions. I followed up with a conference speaker to obtain a list of planned energy projects - a move that has yielded numerous business prospects.
  • Get Social
    Networking is a key component of a conference. Instead of heeding the siren's call of hotel room service, attend conference-hosted dinners, happy hours and events. You might make new business contacts or at least a few new LinkedIn connections. I met interesting attendees from New Mexico and Maine, one of whom, just like me, had lived in San Diego.
  • Share What You Learned
    Don't keep all the wonderful things you heard and learned bottled up in your head, share those discoveries with coworkers, clients, etc. How about sharing your experience through a presentation or better yet a blog post!
  • Follow up
    If you collected business cards or became aware of an interesting company or organization, now is the time to reach out via social media, email or phone to establish and build upon those relationships. Maybe you can line up a buddy for next year's conference!

What are your conference tips for the best experience possible? Please share them with us.