My phone has a folder just for conference apps. And perhaps this is super nerdy, but I get a sense of thrill from moving an app from the folder to my homepage. It means it’s time to attend a conference!
Conferences, in whatever form they take, give you space to step away from your normal work tasks and learn, network, and get re-energized.
And for those of us working in library marketing, conference attendance is vital. Promoting your library means you have to balance a number of skills, like creative writing, data analytics, and project management. We need ongoing training and inspiration to do our best possible work. Conferences help you do that!
But, to get the most out of the experience, you’ll need to do more than show up and take notes. Here are my top 10 tips to help you get the most value out of your next conference.
Pick your sessions in advance.
Before you get into the car, train, or plane to travel to the conference, decide on which sessions you’ll attend. Most conferences offer sessions in tracks. Those are a series of related sessions designed to give you an in-depth and multi-layered education about one area of librarianship.
You may be expecting me to recommend that you always attend sessions in the marketing, communications, or outreach track. And I do… but only if your library is sending more than one person to the conference.
If you are traveling solo, choose your sessions based on the needs of your library. Think about the coming year and the kinds of challenges that may lie ahead for your organization. Then pick the sessions that will help you to meet those challenges.
For example, this year at LibLearnX, I attended a session on strategic planning for libraries. I knew that I needed to learn more about the process so that I could encourage libraries to add communication initiatives to their strategic plans.
If you’re on the fence about a session or are having trouble choosing between several speakers running at the same time, do some research on the speakers. Look on YouTube to see if you can find their past presentations. Check their LinkedIn profile, blog, or website. Their presentation style and willingness to share valuable information with their audiences may help you make your final decision.
Sign up for notifications.
Most conferences will send you notices through email or their app (or both) with helpful info, including places to eat and have fun when you’re not in a conference session. They may also alert you when sessions are added or dropped from the agenda. These can be valuable time savers.
Connect with fellow attendees and speakers on social media before you go.
Start checking the conference hashtag a few weeks before the conference to see who is attending and what they’re excited about. That excitement is contagious!
You might also find Facebook and LinkedIn groups connected to your conference where you can meet attendees in advance. Connecting with conference attendees and speakers ahead of time makes it less intimidating to walk into an event full of strangers.
And while you’re at it, update your LinkedIn profile. You can bet people you meet at the conference will be checking you out.
And you never know… you may find your next boss at the event. I was hired by NoveList in 2019 after meeting my current manager at the Library Marketing and Communications Conference!
Practice how you’ll introduce yourself to new people and have a few conversation starters at the ready.
You’ll be surprised how fast you can freeze up in a room full of strangers. So even though it feels weird, figure out what you’ll say to introduce yourself and then come up with three questions you can ask someone you’ve just met to help get a conversation going.
Can’t think of any good conversation starters? You can steal mine! Of course, they are all library marketing questions.
- What’s the best way you’ve found to send messages to your community?
- What social media channels does your library use to communicate with your cardholders? Which one works best for you?
- How does your library measure your marketing and promotion success?
Get familiar with the venue and pack your conference tote bag.
Try to arrive on the day before the conference so you can go to the venue. Figure out where the exhibit hall, session rooms, food booths, and restrooms are located. Knowing how to get around can help ease your nerves.
If the conference has early check-in, take advantage of it. The registration desk is always busy on the morning of the first day of a conference. You’ll be glad to avoid the lines and get right into your sessions.
The night before the conference, pack a notebook and pens or your laptop, some business cards, a small snack, your water bottle, and a phone charger into a tote bag or backpack. But be sure to leave room for freebies you’ll pick up in the vendor hall.
Take notes in sessions.
You might be tempted to skip this step, given that many speakers make their slides publicly available after the presentation. But you’ll absorb more of the information if you take notes.
Ask questions of the speakers.
If you are in the midst of a session and you have a question about the material, write it down. Most conference sessions include a question and answer time at the end of the session.
If you find it too intimidating to ask a question of a speaker, approach them after the session. They’ll be happy to talk with you one on one.
Give yourself a break.
I made one big mistake at my first post-pandemic in-person conference. I went from session to session without any breaks all day long! It was exhausting and I never had a chance to reflect on what I was learning.
So now, I make a commitment to myself to take a lunch break every day of each conference I attend. If I can, I take my food outside of the venue or I visit a nearby restaurant and eat while going over my notes. The breaks help me to regain focus for my afternoon sessions.
At the end of each day, go through your notes and compile a summary.
Head back to your hotel and spend about 20 minutes just writing a few paragraphs about what you’ve learned, who you met, and how these ideas can translate into your library marketing work.
The time you spend putting your notes in order will also help to reinforce what you learn. It will also prompt you to start thinking about ways to put those new nuggets of knowledge into practice at your library!
Put what you’ve learned into practice—do not skip this step!
When you return home, I want you to set aside one hour on your calendar as if it were a meeting. During that time, review your notes and pick two or three things you’ve learned at the conference that you can do at your library.
For example, maybe you learned ten new tips to get more subscribers for your email newsletter. Choose a few of the tips and make a plan to actually try them!
Try to do this within a week of returning, when the material is fresh in your mind and your enthusiasm and energy are high.
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