I’ve been attending conferences for as long as I’ve been teaching. The school district I used to work for would bring in substitutes once a year so we could spend a couple of days at a conference for teachers.
I loved these professional getaways. They were opportunities to learn from the veterans of your respective field while connecting with other like-minded teachers.
In recent years, I’ve attended conferences for speakers, writers, and bloggers. The keynote sessions and the breakout workshops always give me a lot to think about. But more than anything, it’s a blessing just to spend time with those who share a similar passion for writing.
This January, I’ve been busy preparing for a conference at the end of the month. And my experience with prior conferences has taught me four ways to make the most of any upcoming conference.
1. Be clear, in my own heart and mind, about what it is I hope to gain from the conference experience.
Our expectations can oftentimes be our own undoing.
One of the most important ways to make the most of any conference is to spend some time, before we arrive, identifying what it is specifically we hope to gain from the conference experience. We need to be honest with ourselves and ask:
- Are my expectations realistic?
- Am I okay if my expectations aren’t met?
- How can I prioritize my time at the conference so I come away feeling like it was time well spent?
By examining our own hopes for the conference, we can prepare our hearts for what is most important.
Maybe our presence at a conference is to be a blessing to someone else as much as we hope the conference will be a blessing to us. It’s easy to see a conference as a way to meet our own needs and expectations, but maybe it’s an opportunity to encourage a fellow attendee or pray for a new friend.
2. Let go of the desire to attend everything.
To attend a conference is an investment of our time and money. So, naturally, we want to make the most of it. We want to attend every session and every event.
But I’m also an introvert, and I need some time alone to process and recharge. Sometimes the best thing I can do at a conference is skip a session and go for a walk outside.
Many conferences also make a room available just for prayer. This is a great way to give ourselves some time away and spend time with the One who knows what we need better than we do. My friend Lyn wrote a beautiful post about this very thing.
3. Be intentional about spending time with others.
It’s fun to meet the bloggers you’ve enjoyed getting to know online. At a conference, I’ll run into a blogging friend, say a quick hello, and intend to spend some “quality time” later on. But before I know it, the conference is over, and I missed out on the opportunity to spend time with others because I was busy rushing from one session to the next.
One way to be intentional with the short period of time available is to send an e-mail and ask to sit together during one of the meals. The mealtimes are a great opportunity to visit with others.
4. Be intentional about getting enough rest.
Before I even leave for the conference, I can ensure that I will enjoy it more if I arrive well-rested.
The biggest challenge, however, is during the conference itself. With only a few short days together, it’s tempting to stay up all night visiting with so many wonderful friends. The only problem is that we all return home exhausted, not to mention susceptible to catching a cold due to the lack of proper rest and exposure to germs on the plane ride.
So when I’m at a conference, I want to plan my schedule to make sure I get enough hours of sleep each night. And perhaps I can designate one night to be my “late-nighter.”
What are your tips for making the most of a conference?