June 1, 2017
9 Tips for Attending Conferences
by Ann Myhr
To maximize the value of a conference requires both preparation and some disciplined follow-through.
There are a lot of good reasons to attend an insurance industry conference: high-profile keynote speakers, in-depth educational sessions on emerging industry issues, exhibitors showcasing their products and networking opportunities galore. Those reasons are why as many as 40 million people attend industry conferences every year, according to Conference Hound. The conference/event industry is only getting bigger; the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects it to expand 44% by 2020. For our industry, one index of insurance conferences listed more than 100 events focused on some aspect of the industry that happened in 2016. That’s a lot of conferences!
The trouble is, you can’t do it all. Conferences present a lot of competing objectives–take a long lunch to continue networking, and you sacrificing key learning time, and catching an afternoon panel may mean missing an exhibitor’s demonstration. You’re stuck guessing what will be most beneficial. It’s a real challenge, especially if it’s your first time attending a conference.
See also: Are Conferences Still Worth the Effort?
But that doesn’t mean that you can’t hit the ground running and get a lot out of your first insurance conference. With some preparation and follow-through, plus a little gumption during the conference itself, first-time conference attendees can maximize their experience and get significant value from the event.
Before the conference
- Find the right conference. With nearly 100 conferences for our industry, you have a lot of options, but that doesn’t mean that they’re all worth your time. The Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS) Annual Conference & Exhibition is a popular choice. Attendees get the chance to hear some of the top minds in the risk management and insurance industry. There are plenty of more specific options available, too, addressing topics ranging from windstorm insurance to trucking telematics. Attending a more targeted conference, such as one designed for underwriters, claims or another job function, may be more beneficial to your career development if you’re looking to specialize.
- Do your research. Once you’ve registered for the conference and have travel and accommodation logistics figured out, it’s time to start snooping. A little bit of preconference research can significantly improve your experience during the conference. Look up the speakers and topics of interest–you can sometimes even connect with presenters on social media before the conference. Outline a tentative schedule of the speakers you want to catch so that you can spend your time at the conference networking and learning rather than double-checking when the next session starts.
- Update your professional persona. Before you head to the conference, make sure that your business cards are up to date. Take a big stack of them–more than you think you’ll need–and commit to giving them all away. Also make sure that you update your LinkedIn profile. Most importantly: Prepare a few short elevator speeches for conversations you’re anxious to have. If you’re there to network, come up with a short introduction of yourself and your organization. If you’re there to learn about a certain topic, prepare specific questions you can ask speakers and subject matter experts.
During the conference
- Network, network, network. Conferences are designed for networking, but that isn’t everyone’s forte. A lot of us are uncomfortable meeting people in unfamiliar surroundings. But one of the most important benefits of attending conferences is the opportunity to hone your networking skills and try out those elevator speeches. Many find that they’re more comfortable networking if they expand their scope a little bit. Think of yourself as representing your whole organization–what connections could benefit your employer? It shifts the focus from promoting yourself and gives you a broader purpose.
- Use the app and the hashtag. More and more of the important conversations taking place at insurance conferences are held online. That said, in 2016 more than half of conference attendees were expected to download mobile conference apps. It’s a good way to organize your schedule and keep up with hashtags and updates on social media. (And it’s not a bad idea to check out the hashtag for conferences you aren’t able to attend.) Just don’t spend the whole conference buried in your phone–you’re there to meet and learn from other industry professionals. In fact, almost half of conference attendees recently surveyed said that the face-to-face interactions they had were more valuable than they were two years ago, and the Center for Exhibition Industry Research expects them to become even more valuable in the future.
- Get your money’s worth. There’s one thing many first-time conference-goers forget: They’re paying money to be at the conference. Whether you paid out of pocket, your company is footing the bill or you’re just offering your valuable time, you should work to get as much out of the conference as you can. If a speaker isn’t providing the information you want, ask questions. If you’re still not getting what you need, don’t be afraid to leave and find a session that’s a better fit. Fill your days with as much learning and activity as possible–attend every session you can, talk to as many people you can.
After the conference
- Maintain your connections. The biggest challenge after an insurance conference is maintaining the momentum and enthusiasm you had during it. Start by staying in touch with the connections you made. Send follow-up notes, emails and messages to networking contacts and speakers you met.
- Solidify your knowledge. You may have a left a keynote speaker’s presentation or a particularly strong session energized and ready to put your new knowledge or perspective to work, but that enthusiasm fades fast. Take the time to organize your notes each night of the conference, or read more on a particular topic so that you’re ready and excited to use the new information once you’re back to day-to-day operations.
- Demonstrate the value. Make sure that your employer sees that the time you spent away from your daily insurance gig was worthwhile. A specific thank-you email or follow-up is always good, but returning to work with a few practical ways to do your job better and improve your organization is even better.
See also: My Top Tips From EXEC InsurTech
Have you mastered the art of insurance industry conferences? Give us your best tip in the comments section below.