Conferences great opportunities for career building

Conferences great opportunities for career building

Caitlin Crawshaw, for Canwest News Service

At busy conferences, it’s easy to feel bogged down by the sheer volume of presentations and people.

But if you’re strategic, conferences can be great opportunities to expand your career horizons, says Alan Kearns, founder of Toronto career-coaching firm Career Joy (www.careerjoy.com).

"Today, it’s about what you know, who you know — and who knows you," says Kearns. "Conferences are a terrific, efficient way to do that."

In addition to being exposed to excellent industry-specific information, conferences offer an opportunity to connect with people in the field, including well-known personalities. "You can bump into a lot of people if you’re intentional and wise about it."

Kearns suggests creating a game plan before you head to the conference in order to know who you hope to meet. Researching them in advance can help you strike up a conversation and make contact.

Try to speak to as many different people as you can, and make sure to ask lots of questions. "Remember, it’s not about you — it’s about them. At a conference, remember that people like to talk about themselves. It’s really about getting people to talk about themselves."

Be careful, however, not to get "stuck" in conversation with one individual. Make sure you politely excuse yourself if someone is monopolizing your time. Explain that you need to check your e-mail or make a call if you have to, or even introduce that person to someone else you’ve met, in order to subtlety move on.

But when you’re in a conversation, stay focused. People will be offended if you’re distractedly looking over their shoulder, says Kearns.

Make sure to bring plenty of business cards along with you for the occasion, and exchange them with people you’ve connected with. And remember that timing is everything — pick an appropriate time to pass on your contact information — and that quality, not quantity, is key. "It’s not whoever gives out the most business cards wins."

When you get home, try to reconnect with people you’ve met by telephone or e-mail. Passing along further information about a topic you’ve discussed is one way to do this.

While it’s important to make the most of the opportunities you’re presented with, make sure to take care of at the same time.

"There’s a fine balance between connecting and disconnecting, so you have the energy to sustain you throughout the conference."

This means taking a breather in your hotel room, as well as respecting your values and boundaries when it comes to events involving liquor.

For those who are naturally shy, set small, achievable goals at the conference — for instance, sitting beside someone new or striking up conversations with a stranger. Attending a conference with someone else can make the experience easier, says Kearns.

For those who want to take networking to the next level, volunteering at a conference can open doors. Volunteering to collect speakers from the airport, for instance, can provide one-on-one time with very successful people in your industry.