Editor's note: This story was updated on May 24, 2018.
Conferences provide an excellent opportunity to network, build relationships, and generally enhance your career.
"New conferences are announced almost every day, but you can realistically only attend a select few per year," says Dorie Clark, a marketing strategist, professional speaker, Duke University Fuqua School of Business teacher, and author of "Reinventing You" and "Stand Out."
Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Clark shares her expert advice on selecting—and planning for—worthwhile conferences.
1. Assess where you stand in your career
At the beginning of your career, you should see conferences as opportunities to meet new people.
As you grow professionally, networking opportunities often come to you instead, so you can be more selective about which conferences you attend.
"In the early days... its's useful to err on the side of saying yes... more often," writes Clark.
2. Balance out your "bonding and bridging" interactions
Clark identifies two types of social capital: "bonding capital" represents your connections with people similar to you and "bridging capital" is your connections with different types of people. So if most of your professional connections are within your industry, or with people who share your interests, consider attending a conference where you'll meet people outside of your industry. On the other hand, if most of your connections are outside your workplace or industry, consider attending a conference that's geared toward your career.
3. Plan early
Since conferences usually require you to take two to five days off of work, Clark says it is important to make your arrangements about six months in advance.
Arrangements to consider include:
- Registering for the conference (spots can fill up fast);
- Booking travel arrangements; and
- Booking accommodations.
4. Don't count on luck
"The best conference experiences don't happen by accident," writes Clark. "You make them great with planning and effort."
Once you register for the conference, Clark suggests checking out the speakers and attendees, which are often available online.
Once you know who plans to attend, you can choose the people you want to speak with most and invite them to coffee or a dinner with other attendees. Clark says this will ensure that you "get to spend time with people you find interesting" (Clark, Harvard Business Review, 1/10).
How to have an engaging meeting
There are about 11 million formal meetings in the United States every day—and more than half of them may be unproductive. Why? Because many meetings are inefficiently run. They don't set or achieve clear goals. And we hold them out of habit.
Drawing on best practices—as well as lessons from across our own organization—we've created this useful infographic to guide if you really need a meeting (and if so, how to maximize everyone's time).