Getting the Most out of Conferences

Next week sees the biggest annual gathering of UK fundraisers at the Barbican Centre in London. The IoF Convention brings three days of learning, networking and inspiration to 2,500 individuals, who in turn will share their experiences with colleagues back at base.  It’s a fabulous experience and one to which I look forward every year.

I have attended quite a number of conferences over the years as you can imagine and so I thought I’d share with you my top tips on how to make the very best of your time at Convention.

  1. Plan your day. There are so many great sessions to choose from but it’s important to be clear on what you want to hear about. You might want to perfect your skills in the type of fundraising you are working in, or you might want to find out about another fundraising discipline or experience some Big Picture thinking. Whatever it is, make sure you read the programme and the session descriptions carefully and make a plan right at the start of the day on what you are going to do.
  1. Plan your Route. Conference venues are big places and the Barbican is no exception. Make sure you know how to get to the room where your chosen sessions are taking place and leave plenty of time to get there.  The lifts at the Barbican can be pretty limiting, so take the stairs and get some exercise in while en route. And remember to wear comfortable shoes!
  1. Keep an Open Mind. There is always something to learn from a session. Even if you find yourself familiar with the content, think about the style of the presenter or if there is anything you like about their slides or other visual aids.
  1. Go to the Plenary Sessions. The aim of these is to inspire you and make you feel like you can conquer the world! You won’t necessarily learn anything that you can apply to your work but they will make you feel amazing and motivated – that’s their intention.
  1. Complete your Session Evaluation Forms. Convention can only be as good as the sessions submitted and the Convention Board – and the speakers – really value the feedback you make. It helps make the following year’s Convention or the next time a speaker delivers a session even better. The few minutes you spend writing down your thoughts could have a big impact.   
  1. Visit the Exhibitors. Do make time to walk around the exhibition area and chat to the exhibitors. Believe me it can be a long and lonely day on an exhibition stand and so stop by and see what’s on offer – it’s much quicker than trawling on line for that badge supplier or fulfilment company.
  1. Talk to Other Delegates. It really is a wasted opportunity if you spend the entire time talking to the colleagues you’ve come with. So ask the person you are sitting next to at the start of a session where they work and what they have enjoyed so far. And don’t forget to invite them to connect via Linked In or check out if they have a Twitter feed after Convention.
  1. Check out the Lunchtime Sessions. These are offered to add value to your time at Convention. They are usually more informal in style and offer a chance to really engage with the presenter.  The topics don’t fit neatly into the main tracks, so these sessions are often quirky and niche.  Don’t overlook them – you could miss out on a real treat.
  1. Forget your Day Job. When I first started attending Convention, it really was a time to forget the email and priorities of the working day. No smartphones and no wifi meant you could focus on some personal development and reflect on what you were hearing without distraction. Those days are long gone – however the benefit of total immersion in the Convention without getting dragged back into that email squabble between two colleagues is indisputable.  So turn off your technology!
  1. Take the Learning Away and Share It. It’s a big investment for your organisation to send you to Convention, so make this valuable for your wider team as well as yourself. Why not set up a session a couple of weeks after Convention to share the sessions you most enjoyed and the top tips you learnt with your colleagues?

And finally, make lots of notes in the useful purple notebook you’ll find in your delegate bag.  THINK has been supporting Convention by providing these for nearly 15 years and we know you love them as much as we do.  Many of the THINK team will be at the Barbican across the three days, and we look forward to seeing you and hearing about your Convention experience.

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