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January 01, 2022 January/February 2022

Simple Steps: Getting the Most Out of Conference Attendance

Allison C. Shields Johs

We are quickly approaching ABA TECHSHOW, one of my favorite conferences of the year, and one that I encourage all lawyers to attend regardless of their level of tech knowledge. There’s always something new to learn or discover at the conference!

Whether you plan to attend TECHSHOW or another conference this year, you will want to get the most out of it. Conferences aren’t cheap (even virtual ones), considering the cost of the conferences themselves and the time they take away from your practice. But conferences—especially conferences as large as the TECHSHOW—can be overwhelming. There’s a long list of exhibitors, multiple days of educational sessions, not to mention networking opportunities, social events and more. With a little planning, you can get more out of your TECHSHOW (or another conference) experience.

Determine Your Main Objectives

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when attending a conference like this is to go in unprepared. But where do you start? As Stephen Covey says in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, begin with the end in mind.

Start by imagining what you want to get out of the conference. Is the conference mainly a networking opportunity for you? If so, are there certain speakers, attendees or exhibitors you want to meet or reconnect with? Is there something specific you would like to learn? Are there special activities that you want to plan around? Are you interested in particular products or services from vendors or exhibitors who will be at the conference? Are there speakers whose presentations you want to be sure to attend?

If you plan to attend educational sessions, what do you want to get out of each session? Do you have individual questions you would like to have answered?

Take Time to Prepare

The answers to the questions above will help you map out your strategy for the conference, but don’t wait until you get there. Take the time to prepare in advance. For example, if one of your main objectives is to learn about the newest products and services on offer in the exhibit hall, focus on the list of exhibitors and the map of the Exposition Hall. If learning is your main purpose for attending, before you leave for the conference, schedule a date to present what you learned to your firm or your clients, or commit to writing an article about the conference.

Review the conference agenda to choose the sessions and speakers you are most interested in and create your own schedule in advance instead of trying to choose sessions from the agenda on the spot. Choose a backup for each session; if your first choice isn’t what you thought it would be, it will be easier for you to immediately move to your second choice without having to consult the schedule again.

Your individual conference schedule should include not only educational sessions you want to attend and time to meet with exhibitors, but also the additional events, networking opportunities and social gatherings you would like to attend. It’s a good idea to include some downtime to just relax, get some exercise and fresh air, take in some of the sights in the conference city or catch up with friends. It can be exhausting (and stifling) to spend all your time at a multi-day conference indoors.

You may also want to include time in your schedule to synthesize your conference notes or to send follow-up messages or LinkedIn invitations to the people you’ve met. While it is tempting to think that you will get to these items when you return from the conference, the likelihood of getting them done is far greater if you do them before you leave the conference. Once you get back to your office and your regular work schedule, other things will likely take precedence.

Make the most of conference networking opportunities by reviewing the attendee and speaker lists (if available) before the conference to make note of those people you especially want to meet. Review their websites or social media pages to learn more about them and to see whether you have any connections in common who might make a virtual introduction before the conference so you can plan to meet when you are at the conference. Reach out to those in your network to see who else might be attending the conference that you can catch up with while you are there.

If the preplanned networking or social events aren’t to your liking or don’t seem like they will meet your needs, plan your own. Invite a group of people to meet for dinner, coffee or lunch at the conference, or plan to attend some sessions together. Prepare your elevator speech or short introduction so you’ll be ready when you meet new people.

Follow conference hashtags in the weeks leading up to the conference and while you are there to keep up with the latest news about the conference.

Don't Forget the Basics

Reserve early to get a spot at the conference hotel and take advantage of early registration discounts. Before you leave for the conference, set your out-of-office message on email and voicemail with instructions for who to contact in your absence.

Get your technology in order in advance so you’re not wasting time struggling with the technology once the conference starts. For virtual conferences, familiarize yourself with the online platform. For in-person events, download the conference app before you arrive. This will also allow you to set up your profile, enter your schedule, and start connecting with people before you arrive.

Give some thought to what you pack. In addition to attire for networking and learning sessions, you’ll want to bring more casual clothing for evening or non-conference activities and exercise. It’s always a good idea to pack layers because hotel temperatures can be unpredictable at any time of the year. Wear comfortable shoes, especially if it is a large conference venue. It can be helpful to pack a power strip, portable chargers and an internet hotspot.

Put Your Plan Into Action

When you arrive at the conference, it’s time to put your plan into action. Follow your preplanned schedule, but don’t be afraid to deviate if you find something that looks more interesting. Look for opportunities to meet the people you’ve identified. Wear your nametag in a way that allows people to easily see your name. Try to minimize your use of your devices while at the conference. Introduce yourself to those sitting around you instead of looking at your phone or laptop. Participate; ask questions, attend social events, and strike up conversations in the hallways or at meals.

Talk to speakers after or between sessions—most appreciate feedback and are happy to take questions even after their session has ended. Take good notes; pull out key takeaways and things you want to explore. Distill your conference notes or what you’ve learned into a manageable list of short- and long- term action steps. Put them on your calendar so they don’t get lost in the shuffle when you return from the conference.

Wrapping Up

Once you get back to your office, keep those commitments you made before you left; give that presentation or write the article about the conference. Continue to follow up with new connections. Contact speakers you didn’t have an opportunity to meet at the conference to ask questions or tell them what you got out of their presentation. Tackle your short- and long-term action steps. Congratulate yourself for a great conference experience.

Allison C. Shields Johs


Allison C. Shields Johs, is the president of Legal Ease Consulting, Inc., where she works with lawyers and law firms to develop strategies to improve marketing and client service, and increase productivity, efficiency and profitability. She is the co-author of several books, including LinkedIn in One Hour for Lawyers (ABA 2013) and How to Do More in Less Time: The Complete Guide to Increasing Your Productivity and Improving Your Bottom Line (ABA 2014). [email protected]

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