How to Make the Most of a Government Conference


Conferences offer a unique experience to hear from experts, to network with colleagues in your industry, and to facilitate ongoing learning. However, you won’t make the most of the opportunity by simply showing up. Here are a few tested methods for ensuring you not only arrive, but thrive at your next conference.

Make connections beforehand
A few days before the conference, take some time to really look at the agenda, from speakers to participants to sponsors and exhibitors. Identify two to three people you and your agency would benefit from hearing from, or perhaps just impressive individuals you’d love to add to your network. Drop them a line letting them know you’ll also be in attendance and that you hope to catch up at the event. Mention that you loved their recent book or speech or that you’re intrigued by what their organization is doing with Open Data, and that you’d love to hear more over lunch or coffee. By setting a meeting time in advance, you can skip the introductions and forced small talk and get right into the meaningful conversations that make conferences worthwhile.

Attend the social events too
There’s no denying that conferences, however informative, are tiring. After a long day of sessions the last thing you may want to do is go out and socialize, especially if you’re an introvert like me. However, if the conference offers receptions, evening hospitality suites, or other social outings, do attend. After all, these informal events are often the ones at which meaningful connections and deals are made, and where the fun is had.

Eat with someone new
If you attend the conference with a colleague, it’s natural to stick together. After all, there’s safety in numbers. However, it’s not every day that tens, if not hundreds or thousands of industry professionals are under the same roof, so reap the benefits by joining a new group for a meal or two. In my experience, people are generally very receptive to new faces.

Make notes
Chances are that your agency is footing the bill for you to attend the conference, and there’s nothing worse than drawing a blank when asked to relay what you’ve learned to your boss and/or Council. Even if the event was free or you paid out of pocket, it’s useful to have concrete notes to refer back to. You never know when your organization will benefit from implementing the keynote speaker’s advice on X or when you may wish to purchase an exhibitor’s product for Y. At the very least, jot down the names of speakers, attendees and exhibitors that you meet, and a few words describing their position and contribution to the conference. Keep a master document on file and add to it each time you attend a new event.

Oftentimes, organizers will also provide conference summaries on their websites. Similarly, my company, a publication written for the public sector, has recently begun partnering with organizers to produce comprehensive conference reviews. Such tools can also be useful if you’re looking to, say, jog your memory about a given presentation or contact a speaker whose name you’ve forgotten.

Be active on social media
Engaging with others via social media is a great way to gain traction for your organization, as well as promote yourself as an influencer in your industry. This can be as simple as tweeting out a few powerful quotes and key ideas generated at the conference. Be sure to check if your event has an official hashtag so that you’re part of the online conversation.

Use conferences to make valuable additions to your professional network by following up with your new connections within 48 hours of returning to the office. Grab that stack of business cards and send a quick personalized note, add individuals on LinkedIn, and follow prominent organizations on Twitter and Facebook. Then, be sure to keep connections warm by checking in every few months.

Do you have any tips for making the most of conferences?

Brittany Renken is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Christina Smith

Great article, Brittany! I’ve got two conferences coming up in September, and these are great reminders for me!

Wander Cedeño

This was a great post, Brittany! Recently, I used my notes from a conference I attended two years ago for a work-related project. Who knew it would eventually come in handy?

Francesca El-Attrash

Brittany! Such great tips! For someone who gets anxiety from the mere thought of conference and networking, this is very helpful!

Brenda Dennis

Brittany these are such good tips! I especially liked the tip about connecting beforehand! I will definitely be trying out some of these next time!

Christine Burke

I like using Google docs for taking notes. You can easily share it with your coworkers and other people you meet! And make sure to remember your business cards!

David Carr

good advice. I have been going to government conferences for a long time. I have found that the notes taken at conferences about products can be helpful down the road. Also I have made contacts at vendors who remain in touch over the years and sometimes know people within your circle. I have been doing the LinkedIn Follow up because we do not get business cards but I get business cards from others and connect on LinkedIn when I get back to the office. I tend to eat lunch (if provided) with random people who are also at the conference. Recently I got some great advice about getting CPE credits for the conference attendance from someone who was a panelist in a session I was planning to attend later in the day.