School conferences are great opportunities for you to expand your knowledge, keep up with industry trends and advance your boarding school career. But they’re also an overwhelming flood of speakers, sessions, conversations, and social events, making it tough to know where and how to focus your time and energy.
Which sessions should you attend? Should you skip the keynote speaker? How much time should you spend at the social event?
If you go to a lot of school conferences you might already have your own tactics for making the most of them (if so, we’d love to hear them in the comments) but if you’re not, don’t worry, here are 13 practical tips that you can use to get the most out of your next school conference.
Before the conference
.1. Choose the right sessions
The best way to structure your time is to plan which sessions you’re going to attend before the conference starts.
Set goals for what you want to learn at the conference and then use the agenda to create a plan specifically tailored to your goals. Most conference organisers will publish a full agenda on their website that you can view, download or print off.
The key to choosing the right sessions is to consider both the content that will be covered and the people involved. If you think that you’ll learn something that’s aligned with your goals, then the session will be valuable to you regardless of who is present.
However on the other hand, sessions that aren’t directly related to your goals can also be valuable if they are led by an industry leader or there are other important people attending that you are angling to meet.#ConferenceTip When choosing sessions to attend consider if you’ll learn something valuable or meet someone new Click To Tweet
2. Reach out to people
Conferences are a time to build relationships, both new and old. So if you already know people that are attending the same conference and want to connect with them, try reaching out a few weeks before the event to set up a time to meet for a coffee or meal.
With a set time or plan organised beforehand, you won’t have to count on bumping into them during the conference and trying to squeeze in a conversation amongst sessions or other attendees.
3. Set an “out of office” reply
Let’s face it, you’re probably going to still be checking your email during the conference, however due to the busy nature of conferences, you won’t have time to respond straight away.
An automatic reply will help to manage expectations by letting your colleagues, students and parents know why they may not hear from you straight away.
4. Get to know your surroundings
If you don’t want to get lost during the conference and miss out on important information or give off a bad impression when you show up late, try getting to the venue a little bit earlier to familiarise yourself with the conference space.
If the venue is too big for you to explore on foot, see if you can get a map of the space from the reception to figure out where all the important locations are.
During the conference
5. Distill each session to 3 key takeaways
With each day packed full of sessions and talks, it can all be a lot to take in. Make sure you take organised notes so you can remember what you’ve learnt when you get back to school.
Try and distill each session/talk into 3 main points. This will help you to remove any nonsense and quickly jog your memory about the key points that matter. Remember to also record any questions you have for the speaker so you can follow up with them after the conference or further explore the topic on your own.#ConferenceTip Remember what you’ve learnt by distilling each session into 3 key takeaways Click To Tweet
6. Don’t spend all your time with people you already know
Spending all your time with people you already know kind of defeats the purpose of conferences. So try and use this opportunity to reach out to someone new – Spark a conversation or join in on group discussions.
When you’re networking at a conference, the key is to allow enough time and space for others to shine. Ask thoughtful questions and listen carefully to how they respond. Meaningful conversations will help you to leave a lasting impression and build stronger relationships.
7. Divide and conquer
Having co-workers at a conference is a big advantage, but if you all end up going to the same sessions, your school might as well have just sent one of you.
Organise with your colleagues to split up and cover as many different sessions as possible and then re-group at lunch or dinner each day to share what you’ve learnt.
This way you’ll be able to maximise how much you’re able to learn and gain unique insights into each session. Splitting up and flying solo will also help you to meet new people and expand your boarding network.#ConferenceTip Split up and cover as many different sessions as possible, then re-group and share what you’ve learnt Click To Tweet
8. Attend social events
Social and networking events at conferences are the perfect opportunity to break the ice and connect with your peers in a more relaxed setting (And they’re often more important than the sessions).
So even if you’re feeling exhausted, make sure you make an effort to head along even if it is just for a short time. Also don’t be afraid to hang around after the event is over – You don’t have to cut off a great conversation just because the time is up.
9. Interact with Vendors
Although vendors are mainly at conferences to exhibit their product or service, they are also a good source of information. Most vendors will likely be experts in their respective fields and can offer valuable insight into upcoming trends, and certain area’s of boarding that you may never have thought of.
For example, one of the area’s in boarding that we specialise in is managing weekend leave and exeat processes. We’ve worked with 100s of boarding schools around the world and love to share and discuss the latest strategies, techniques and trends that are happening in the boarding industry.#ConferenceTip Gain unique insights and expert opinions by talking to vendors Click To Tweet
10. Avoid your phone
Smartphones have become a part of our everyday lives but at a conference they are just a barrier that stops you from interacting and engaging with other attendees – which is the whole point of a conference.
So don’t reach for your phone when you’re waiting for the next talk or session to begin, instead strike up a conversation with the person next to you.
11. Don’t burn out
Conferences can be exhausting, especially if you’re not naturally an extroverted person. So it’s important to remember to take care of yourself and give yourself time to rest and rejuvenate during the conference.
After the conference
12. Follow up
Once the conference is over, it’s time to follow up with the new connections you’ve made, and it’s best to do this immediately after the conference while it’s still fresh on their mind.
Send them a friendly email, connect with them on linkedin or send them a quick txt message. Even a small “nice to meet you” message can go a long way to expanding your network and building relationships.
13. Share what you’ve learnt
The insights you gathered at the conference are likely to be useful for other members of your boarding team. So remember to make an effort to share and pass on what you’ve learnt.
Share your notes, give a talk about something you learned at the next staff meeting or send an email with important links out to your colleagues and friends. It’s a quick and easy way for you to help your boarding colleagues and hopefully they will do the same the next time they go to a great event.
At the end of the day, school conferences are the best way for you to stay up-to-date with the latest industry trends, expand your knowledge and advance your boarding career. But most importantly, they’re a time catch up with your peers and have fun.
Do you have any conference tips of your own? Share them in the comments below 🙂