Maximize Your Conference Experience by Being SMART

March 28, 2024 | By: Christopher Oronzi

So, you’ve decided to attend a conference. Great! In these days of tight budgets and full workloads, a chance to get away from your desk, to meet with your colleagues, and to focus on your professional growth and development is a real privilege. It’s up to you to spend that investment of time and money wisely. In other words, find a way to maximize your conference experience. You can do this easily by making a SMART plan to take advantage of all of the formal and informal learning experiences attending a conference can provide.  

The first step in making your SMART plan is to define what it is, Specifically, you hope to gain from attending that particular conference. Then, Map out how exactly you’ll go about achieving that goal. Do some Advance Research to decide which topics and which sessions most pique your interest, and which speakers you most want to hear. Be sure to Think up some questions you might have for them, or about how the topics they plan to cover will benefit you. A conference is, after all, an opportunity to gain insight and learn from others in your industry. Take every advantage of that opportunity.  

Next, use this SMART system to make sure you are getting what you want out of the conference growth and development opportunities. Get started by asking yourself: What Specifically do I want to learn at this conference? Add to it a way to Measure that, such as: What are some clear benchmarks I can use to measure my increase in knowledge, skill, or ability? Next, decide what exactly you’ll do to take Action by answering: How will I apply what I learn about this topic to my everyday life?  Then, consider why that conference is Relevant to you by answering: How will attending make me a better contributor to my team or company? Lastly, determine the Timeliness of your plan of action by asking: When can I start applying what I’ve learned from this conference?  

Then, think about what persistent problems you’re facing at work, and how you can use attending that conference to be SMART about solving those problems. Use this opportunity to explore Solutions. Carve out time to Meet with colleagues and vendors who can help. Use that time to get Answers to questions about your situation; it’s possible others have faced similar problems in the past. That will help you uncover potential Resolutions to your problems. Also, be sure to stop by the Trade show. It’s a great way to connect one-on-one with vendors who might be able to provide solutions, including demonstrations of their products and services. Even if it’s just a mutual elevator pitch, this is a great way to get the process started. Think of a way to take that first meeting face-to-face, instead of having to fit yet another call into your schedule.  

Of course, a conference is nothing if not a chance to build and leverage your professional network, but you should also be SMART about how you do this. Consider all of the informal networking opportunities that a conference provides. Create a plan to help yourself take full advantage of these opportunities. Commit to Sitting with people you don’t know at meals. Use every opportunity you can to Make small talk. Chat with them while you’re waiting in line at the bar or riding in the elevator. Find ways to go beyond the small talk by Asking questions. You can even prepare some in advance. Find out what they think about the conference. Get their reaction to something a speaker said. Find out what plan they have for applying their lessons learned. Share yours. This is how you can build Rapport with someone you’ve just met so you can begin to Talk to them on a deeper level. You might not make a new best friend, but at least you’re getting to know other people in your industry; people who you can call on later as potential resources for any number of reasons. 

Maximizing your conference experience is important. It is your chance to learn new information and develop your skills. It is also a way to find solutions to your problems and grow your professional network. Be sure to take every advantage of that opportunity by being SMART about how you approach your conference.   


Make a SMART plan to maximize your conference experience 
Conference Planning Conference Learning Conference Value Conference Networking 
Set goals  Specific lessons Solutions to problems Sit with new people 
Map out a plan  Measurements Meet with others Make small talk 
Advance Applications Answers to questions Ask questions 
Research Relevance Resolutions (potential) Rapport (build)  
Think of questions Timeline (for applying) Trade show Talk on a deeper level