I can’t tell you how many times I have traveled thousands of miles only to stare at the mundane wallpaper plastered on the wall of a dimly lit ballroom in the basement of some hotel. Maybe the conference topic was scintillating, maybe not. One thing I do know, this is no way to hold a meeting.
If you stare at this wallpaper long enough, you tend to forget which day it is, get sleepy, and fail to have a productive conference. Here are five steps to shake off the malaise and really engage at your next meeting:
Plan Ahead. If you don’t know what you hope to accomplish at a conference, you most assuredly won’t leave with a sense of fulfillment. What are your objectives for the meeting? Do you want to meet colleagues who practice in the same field as you? Do you want to learn more about a specific subject? Do you want to influence others? A little homework will help get you there. Study the participant roster for names that you know or would like to get to know. Determine which lectures are on your “must-attend” list and schedule them accordingly. Advance planning will make for a more productive time.
Introduce Yourself. People attend meetings to interact with others. If you are shy or hesitant, you may be missing a key opportunity to engage with colleagues. Start slowly – introduce yourself to the person sitting next to you in the lecture. Most people are seeking similar opportunities to reach out, so they will gladly provide their name too. Asking questions like “where are you from” and “what did you think of the speaker” is a good way to start.
Stay Where the Action Is. Overnight stays can be expensive no matter where you travel, but you spent all this money on a meeting, you should optimize your investment. If at all possible, stay at the hotel where the meeting will be held. You will have a greater chance of running into other colleagues, participating in social activities, and feeling more engaged in the process.
Ask for Help. Meeting planners want participants to enjoy their experience. If you need help identifying colleagues, knowing when to offer public comments, or finding the location of a good restaurant, just ask! Meeting planners and their staff, hotel concierges and conference hosts will point you in the right direction.
Eat Well and Exercise. You might expect your mother, the First Lady or the Surgeon General to offer this advice, but it is important to heed. Although meeting planners and hotels are starting to get the hint, there are too many options to eat poorly at conferences. A continental breakfast consisting of a bagel and coffee that follows with a mid-morning break of soda and a pastry will have you snoozing before lunch. Sitting for hours at a time will not only expand your caboose, but will tire you out. Seek the healthier food options to feel energized and awake, and take a walk around the block during an afternoon break to keep your circulation flowing.