Have you ever come home from a conference exhausted and wondering what the heck just happened?
This happens to me, especially at large conferences like the American Society of Association Executives annual meeting and expo. ASAE is large (5,000 people here, I think) and has more going on than one simple person like me can follow. I am a dust bunny and it’s Spring Cleaning. The glitz factor alone fills me with awe. The meeting in Los Angeles was book ended by private concerts with Melissa Etheridge and Cyndy Lauper. Country music is not my thing, so I can’t be as enthusiastic about the big name musicians here this year. My country loving colleague says they’re amazing. The speakers are top-notch too. We’re hearing from Adam Grant, professor at Penn’s Wharton School about his book, “Give and Take” for the opening session. I’m chuffed! ( I picked up a few of British expressions living in Canada. I love this word and will not give it up.)
There is a certain echelon for whom all this would not be entirely unusual. To me, it is another universe. I prefer to sparkle quietly, and in a small group. These are the strategies I’ve developed for giving my best and having a great time at this big, bold, bodacious meeting.
1. Take time for silence and be mindful.
My meditation and mindfulness practices help keep me grounded and bring me back when I get swept away. Every meeting has spaces away from the swirling energy of the crowd. Find them and use them during breaks, even if it’s only 5 minutes. You can also practice mindfulness by simply noticing what you eat, how it tastes, and how it smells. It’s a good way to avoid overeating and proves especially useful when trying to find the appetizer line in a crowded hallway like we had last night.
2. Use what comes naturally to help engage with others.
My intentions for this conference are to deepen my connection to my colleagues, to collect and share useful nuggets of information, and to have more meaningful conversations, even if it means having fewer of them. My evaluator question-asking skills can help here. “Where do you work?” can beecome “What’s the most rewarding part of your work?” Job titles reveal nothing. Stories get to what matters.
3. Reflect on what you see and hear.
Too often conference wisdom stays in our notebooks. This year I’m writing an abstract about each session and sharing it with my colleagues. I’ll post the best stuff here and tell you why I think it matters.
4. Take fewer pictures and use the ones you take.
Snapping pictures takes me out of the moment and I usually do nothing with the photos. This year, if I’m taking pictures I intend to use them. Here’s a picture of the delicious Goo Goo Cluster the fine folks from Nashville had waiting for us at the airport. Chewy, chocolate perfection!
5. Do mini-missions.
What’s a mini-mission? It’s a small, fun, self-imposed activity that you think will improve the conference experience for you or someone else. This year I’m stretching how I use social media. Not just tweeting and snapping pictures but trying to add value. I’m also on the lookout for expressions of authenticity to balance the high production factor of the meeting. Last, I’m hunting for pithy phrases and quotes.
6. Do a few things for no other reason than you know they will make you happy.
I’m going to visit Canada in Nashville! Why? Because Canada and Canadians make me happy, like heart filled with joy, can I please come home with you happy. Business Events Canada is in booth 1517. Visit them. They’ll make you happy too. If my recommendation is not enough, they have a beer garden.
How do you bring your best to conferences?