Academic and business events such as conferences, congresses or trade fairs are indispensable for advancing in your career. They offer you a great chance for networking and expanding your vision thanks to those brilliant speakers and highly informative programs. However, you have to know how to get the most of these events to make it really worth your attending. Miguel Neves, Senior Online Community Manager of the IMEX Group and the President of Meeting Professionals International, UK & Ireland Chapter has been so kind to answer my questions about business and academic meetings and he provided some highly useful information for the event attendees.
Q: What do you think conferences are really for? What kind of a role do they play in an academician’s career?
A: Conferences can play many different roles depending on industry and type of job. They are always great opportunities for professional networking, which is important for every professional. Education is also a big part of a conference as is the exchange of ideas and face to face meetings that can only be done in person. For academics, conferences provide all of these and also a great way to showcase an individual or an organisation’s work. Academic conferences have a long history and a successful presence can mean funding, awards and more for active conference participants.
Q: What should be the criteria to choose an event to attend?
A: The conference programme is a great place to start. A careful review of the speakers and topics being offered is very important and I would recommend an online search to learn more about each speaker. A conference should be dynamic and offer different types of sessions and opportunities for networking and meetings. If it is possible to see who is attending this can also be very useful information.
Q: How can an attendee get the most out of a conference?
A: It’s important that attendees make space both mental and physical for the conference. Very often attendees travel between events and conferences without really having time to absorb what they learnt, who they met and how this could help them. The single most important thing is to make yourself available and truly present at a conference so that you can reap all the benefits of attending.
Q: Do you have any smart tips to share for networking during a conference?
A: The most important part of the conference is making good connections (new or old) and having stimulating conversations. I try not to focus on the number of different conversations but on the quality of each one. A good idea, piece of business or connection can be worth the whole investment made in attending a conference. I would always recommend giving the person who you are talking to your full attention and not look around for other people while they are talking. However, if the conversation is over, then allow yourself to move along even if you have to “take a comfort break” as a way to move along.
Q: Do you believe the location of the conference matter?
A: The location can make all the difference. In most situations the content and the attendees will be the most important part of making a decision to attend a conference. However if there is a desire to extend for personal reasons, the attractiveness of the location can be important. If a location is hard to get to, if the airport or road/train connections are not good, then this can make it harder for attendees to get to a location, extending the travel times. This can also have a negative effect. Where conferences have a strong link to the local economy this on the other hand can have a very positive effect on attendance as there is a good business and political connection.
Q: What kind of a preparation process should the event attendees conduct before the conference?
A: To get the most out of a conference the preparation is very important. Researching the speakers and attendees can give you a head start and make sure that you are prepared. If travelling internationally or to a new location it is also important to prepare in a practical sense, find accommodation near the venue and make sure you have all the logistical details arranged. At the conference electronic tools like a conference app or social media tools like twitter can add an extra dimension to participating in a conference. I like to use both as much as I can.
Q: When a conference is finished, are the attendees done with it? What are the things to do after attending a conference?
A: Following up on the conversations and learning is the most important. A stimulating conference environment can spark ideas, connections and discussions. It is important to collect these and make use of them while they are fresh and exciting. Taking notes and organising them in a practical way is also important, but following up with new connections is the more important. I use LinkedIn where possible to connect with new acquaintances and make notes on profiles. This keeps me up to date with them wherever they move to.
Q: Some conferences may really be expensive. Are all the expensive conferences worth it? How can an attendee distinguish the good and the bad ones?
A: The price of conferences can vary a lot. I’ve been to free conferences that were priceless and expensive conferences that were worthless. It is almost impossible to tell in advance which ones will be the most valuable, but there are a few signs. A track record is important. Many conferences are annual so looking at the previous year’s editions and where possible connecting with previous attendees can be a great way to research them. Researching the programme can also be useful and making sure that the type of conference and sessions make sense for you and your organisation.
Q: Are the workshops or the social events within the conferences worth attending? What kind of a contribution can be expected from these activities?
A: Absolutely. Sometimes these are the most valuable parts of a conference. This is the unique opportunity to really connect with people in a relaxed environment. Lifelong connections are not made in lectures, they are made when engaged in interesting conversations and these require an engaging and stimulating environment. If you are with good people worth knowing, then connecting in an informal setting is very valuable.
Q: Which one matters the most for attending a conference? The speakers? The topics? Or its offering the most favourable networking options?
A: There is not one single answer to this question. It depends on each person’s objectives. In my case I think the networking is the most important, but this is hard to judge ahead of time so in many cases it is the speakers that pull me towards a conference. If the speakers are good, then it’s a good sign that the networking will also be good.