In my broad workload of careers from marketing to education and back again, I’ve learned, through trial and error, that there’s a right way and a wrong way to attend a conference, an educational course or a networking opportunity. Actually, there are several, but today I’m focusing on a professional core necessity: creating a purpose.
All through my education and much of my professional life, I attended conferences, meetings and educational opportunities. When asked why I was there, I’d probably shrug the question off, unable to clearly answer besides “because I’m supposed to” or “because it’s part of my education” or “because I could get a day away from the office/classroom” or, simply, “to learn something.”
After much attendance and little takeaway, I realized I won’t get much out of a conference, educational event or networking session without a purpose–without a focused why.
The Purpose of a Purpose
When you walk into a conference, it’s bound to be overwhelming due to a wide variety of information to share in order to appeal to everyone. It’s easy to sit in a session where you see a friendly face or tag along with a new buddy. But if you end up in a popular session about how to sell your blog to a magazine because it had lots of sparkles in the title or because your bestie was attending, and you have no interest in ever, ever selling your blog, you’re wasting your time, a valuable seat and, likely, will leave the conference session feeling overwhelmed and inadequate. Meanwhile, down the hall and across the way, was a smaller session that would have really helped you.
You need to know why you are attending a conference. And you need to identify that reason before leaving your desk.
How to Determine Your Purpose
Most conferences, no matter how purposeful their title may seem, will provide a broad amount of information. Before attending, take a close look at the topics being covered and highlight topics those that are most important and relevant to you. If you don’t have any interest in working with brands, then there’s no reason to attend a brand-marketing session. It’s the same as if you’re not a musician, there’s no reason in signing up for a course titled “Classic Instruction in String Instruments.” Why? Because you’d be out of your element.
Once you’ve highlighted and narrowed down what interests you, take some time to analyze what you hope to get out of the conference. This may take some time, so give yourself a few days or hours. Take a look at your life and your career and as these questions:
- What areas do I think I’ll need to learn to grow?
- Will it help me to learn how to ______? (market my product? Create my own brand? Excel as an instructor of mathematics? Understand more micro uses of Microsoft Excel and how they’ll apply to my business recording?)
When a conference topic applies to a positive answer, double highlight programs that appeal to those needs and cross off those that don’t.
Next, take the highlighted courses you have left, and write them on a separate sheet of paper. Look at them closely. Do they all have a similar string? Perhaps all the topics are focused on SEO or all regard literature for preschoolers. If so, you’re done. You know you’re attending the conference for that purpose.
But what about those of us still just don’t know? The attendees who don’t know what they’re working on yet, or who can’t find a common thread among all the highlight sessions?
Then it’s time to think outside just work and focus on skills you really just need to work on. Dig deep, my friend. Why did you pay all that money to buy the ticket? Was it to find your people? Was it to get away from home? Then that is your purpose.
Setting your Purpose and Objective
When I was in teacher-training, a deep part of the lesson plan was identifying both the purpose and the objective. I had a lot of trouble with this, as the two are so similar. A purpose is the reason behind a person doing something. An objective is the steps that one will take to reach a goal. In the case of a conference, the reason behind one attending can be anything from “to network with sponsors” to “to catch up with people in my tribe” to “to learn more about SEO.”
Therefore, the objective would be the important steps one takes and achieves to reach the goal (or the purpose). Let’s look at the SEO purpose. In order to achieve this purpose, one will attend session X to learn about writing for SEO and Y to learn how to code meta-tags. For those of you who don’t work in tech, we’ll look at it with a different example: If your purpose in attending a book conference is to collect a listing of non-fiction books relevant to World War 2, your objectives would be to do pre-conference research about relevant topics pertaining to World War 2, to attend a workshop on how to categorize World War 2 books, and to meet and talk to a prominent World War 2 author to learn how she does her research.
Your objectives, really, are making sure the things you do at the conference will meet your purpose in attending.
© 2015, Julie Meyers Pron. All rights reserved.