5 Steps to Success-A Guide for Conference Attendees
I sit here today with a long list of tasks ahead of me. A few weeks ago, I attended a voiceover conference called VO Atlanta. It’s an annual event attended by different individuals in the voiceover industry, including actors, agents, directors, producers and numerous resource providers. It spans four days and has over 200 hours of scheduled activities, breakout sessions and x-sessions. It’s a tremendous event that is applicable for new entrants to the voiceover industry as well as those who have been in it for years.
With conferences like this there’s a tendency to try to bite off more than you can chew. There’s so much good information that you want to absorb it all, but due to time constraints that’s not possible. So, what do you do? How do you make the most of your time and money at these events? Here are 5-steps to guide you toward Conference Success.
(1) Pre-Event Self Evaluation
- What’s your overall objective?
- Some folks go to these conferences purely for the social aspect. They come to reconnect with old friends. They may poke their heads into a breakout sessions or panel discussion, but you’ll mostly find them hanging out in the lounge, or restaurant area. The conference serves as a mini vacation for them. And ya know…there’s nothing wrong with that. Their time…their money…their decision! Let’s face it we are social beings. We long for connections with others. Prior to the 2022 VO Atlanta Conference, there wasn’t an in-person meeting like this since 2018! So, you can imagine the angst that was built up. Thus, at the 2022 Conference there was a lot of relief to see friends whose faces were previously only visible on a screen.
- Others attend conferences to soak up all the possible information that they can. They’re starving for knowledge on how they can better themselves and their businesses. They want to maximize their time by collecting information and learning as much as they can. Their goal is to return from the conference with a bag full of knowledge that they can immediately apply. This is a noble effort, but it does have its potential pitfalls, as I’ll discuss in a moment.
- As you determine your objective for attending; you should do a self-evaluation. Be honest and don’t cut corners in your assessment. How do you measure up with others in your industry? What things are you doing well? What are you lacking? Picture yourself one year into the future…How do you want your business to look? Do you feel the conference can help you get there? Maybe you’ve never attended a conference like this, so you haven’t a clue as to how to evaluate if it’s a good thing for you. If that’s the case, seek out the opinions of others who have previously attended. Many conferences post reviews on their social media channels. Some allow you to take a glimpse into past events so you can get a feel for how it’s run. It’s very important to complete this step first, because it leads right into the next step of planning your actual attendance at the event.
(2) Create a Pre-Event Plan
Ok, you’ve determined your overall objective for attending the conference. Now what? Pay your registration fee, buy your plane ticket and book your hotel room, right? Whoa, whoa, whoa…not so fast! You’ll now want to spend some time thinking about what will happen while you’re at the conference.
Propper planning is essential when you’re attending a large conference. So how do you prepare yourself? How do you make the most out of your time? The last thing you want to do is step off the plane (or out of your car), head to the venue and dive right in. That’s a recipe for disaster that will likely leave your head spinning. It would be like setting out on a cross country trip with no plan on the interstates or routes you’ll drive. You’ll bounce around aimlessly, wasting a lot of time and energy. Conversely, a well thought out plan will help lead you down the road toward a destination I call, “Conference Success”. Here’s how I did it.
As soon as the program for VO Atlanta was available, I read through it completely. I marked off every single class and X-session that interested me. A note about the X-sessions…X-sessions were not included in the conference registration fee. They are designed to be a more focused session that lasts 3 hours instead of the 1 hour regular session. X-sessions offer more information, training and participation of attendees, thus the additional cost. If your conference offers additional content be sure to consider that in your pre-event planning as well as your budget planning.
Of course, after this initial program read-through there was a lot of overlap; numerous sessions that I wanted to go to but that were occurring at the same time. Also, the additional costs of the X-Sessions would completely blow my budget! So, I then went over the program again and whittled my choices down. I repeated this until I didn’t have any overlap and until my budget wasn’t busted. It was tough to make those cuts because I really wanted to absorb all I could. So, as I made the cuts, I allowed myself to be guided by this question: Within the next 1-3 months, will I be willing and able to act on or apply what’s learned from each of these sessions? If I didn’t see myself putting it into action during that time, I cut it. Now, these classes were all worthy of my time, but it just boiled down to me wanting to make the best possible use of my time and to be able to hit the ground running as quickly as possible when I returned home from the conference. The sessions that didn’t make the cut were put on a backup list just in case something occurred with my first choices.
With your participation plan completed, you’ll want to give some thought to the location of the event. Attention given here will increase the likelihood that you’ll have a productive experience overall.
(3) Scope out the Venue
Here you are. Day 1 of the conference. You’ve marked up your conference program with notes, you’ve determined your priorities and completed your schedule of sessions. You’re on your feet and are eagerly headed toward your first session. Then you realize you have no idea where the Chatooga Room is located. A slight panic sets in as you don’t want to be late to the very first session. What kind of tone will that set for the remainder of the conference? A small bead of sweat forms on your brow as you see the hallways start to clear while others make it to their rooms. You stop in your tracks and believe you’re experiencing one of those filming techniques where the camera rapidly spins around you creating a blur as your face becomes disfigured with fright. Arghhhh!!!… Well, let’s hope that doesn’t happen to you. Do the best you can to familiarize yourself with the layout before Day 1. Conduct a walk-though if possible. If you’re concerned, take detailed notes on the best routes to take to get where you’ll need to be. That’s what’s in your control. Here are some other things to consider.
A few things.
- First is the size of the conference. A small gathering with under 100 people may be held in a small hotel with 2 meeting rooms. Not too difficult to navigate right? However, a conference with over 500 attendees will require much more room. The larger the venue…the more meeting rooms required…the more challenging it will be to get around. Consider this when you make your schedule. How will you get from point A to point B? What are the potential pitfalls? It would be a great idea to take a walk through the facility before the first day of meetings. Most places have virtual tours that you can take online before you even leave your home. Get as familiar as you can with the venue so that you won’t spin your wheels when you arrive.
- Second is the level of organization by the conference owner. With the knowledge of the volume of bodies that will be moving around, any good conference planner will understand the need to aid with directions; whether it’s through large overhead signs, pop-up displays or table tents. The VO Atlanta Conference had a team of Ambassadors. These were people who were charged with keeping a lookout for those in need. They were equipped with the knowledge of the venue’s floor plan so they could quickly provide assistance to the directionally challenged. If these are provided, use them to the best of your ability. That’s why there present.
- Lastly, there’s the level of assistance provided by the venue hosting the conference, a key element in the overall effectiveness of any conference. You may find that the venue’s capacity is a bit stressed during your conference’s appearance. The hotel rooms may be filled to capacity or service levels by housekeeping or in the restaurant may decrease. Or perhaps the venue’s management IS well equipped to handle the increased volume of people walking their halls, and thus provide partner-like assistance to conference attendees. If you happen to be on the receiving end of poor service, please be kind and report it to the facility’s manager. Despite what some think, they really do want our feedback. Also, if you experience exceptionally great service, be sure to let management know about that as well. You’ll be starting a flow of positive vibes ness that will likely spread from the manager to the rest of the venue’s staff.
(4) Open yourself up/Come out of your shell
This fourth step is kinda’ linked to the first step of self-evaluation. It focuses on you and your interactions during the conference.
Do you consider yourself to be outgoing or shy? How do you feel about crowds…are you at home and comfortable or do you tend to have a bit of anxiety when in large groups? Are you the type of person to just go up to a stranger and introduce yourself or do you shy away from such things? How you answer these questions will depend on your personality type and how you’ve done in the past in similar situations.
I have no issue being in crowds and I welcome the opportunity to meet new people. And while there are a lot of people like me, I acknowledge that there are plenty of people who are not. If you’re in that group, please understand that there’s nothing inherently wrong with you. You should not feel bad about being you. While you may be challenged with attending a conference with a lot of people, there’s no reason that you still can’t arrive at the destination of “Conference Success”.
- Know yourself
- If you’ve been diagnosed with agoraphobia or you feel you may suffer from agoraphobia you should consult with a professional with experience who can assist you. A large conference may not be the best time to test your ability to handle this alone. Educate yourself on all you can about the conference, then communicate with your professional all you’ve learned. Your expert may be able to assist you with a plan to help you effectively manager your participation at the conference.
- Step out of your shell
- Barring any clinical reasons if you’re resting on the shy end of the spectrum. This may be the perfect time to test yourself! After all you’ll be amongst a group of like-minded individuals who are probably there for the same reason you are. Take a chance and reach out a hand of friendship to a stranger while you’re in line for your morning coffee. It may be the start of a connection that could be wildly beneficial for both of you. Many conferences have scheduled time to facilitate such meetings. Use this time to connect with your existing network but don’t pass up the opportunity to develop new relationships. You never know where it might lead.
Ahhh, you’ve made it through the conference. Your bags are packed with your notes, tons of conference swag and your lanyard name tag proving that you were actually there! Your head’s probably spinning full of ideas. Just like mine is every time I attend a conference. You’ve got some great BIG ideas. You’re thinking that as soon as you get home you’re going to jump right in and put everything you’ve just learned into practice.
Before you make that attempt; take a moment to breathe. Seriously, let’s do it now! Take a deep breath…hold it for a few seconds…then exhale. Repeat a few times until you’re a bit more relaxed. Pat yourself on the back. You just made an investment in your career by completing your attendance at a conference. Be proud! You’ve followed the 5-steps and achieved “Conference Success”. Next time we’ll talk about some best practices for building on that success.