You never know what you might learn at a conference

– Recognizing the opportunity to learn new things and connect dots for yourself and others

It’s been a busy week. Two conferences down in one week, Six Sigma conference at Cisco and a PMI Silicon Valley annual conference, and still one more to go later in the month. Both conferences lived up to their advertised value and delivered a good amount of new information and take-away’s.

Equipped with a list of opportunities to leverage at each of the conferences, in addition to the information shared in the sessions and the networking opportunities with peers and experts, I was ready to uncover the hidden values of these conferences. Below I’ll share a couple of examples that you might consider adding to your list next time you attend a conference.

Crowd-sourcing advice on how to handle a difficult situation: A project consultant I met at one of the conferences this week used his time at the conference in a way I have used many times before. He was helping his client with a very difficult situation, leading the client’s disorganized team in a product release with a very tight timeline.  He was battling with a specific issue and spent majority of his time sharing his situation with as many peers and speakers/experts as possible.  The goal was simple, crowd-source the solution to his situation with a group of qualified people. The value of this method is clear, and I have taken advantage of it many times. The only advice I can give you is to take good notes and state the situation the same way each time, rather than modifying base on advice you receive to avoid bias.

Connecting people for mutual benefit: A very good friend of mine who is new to project management and very interested in breaking in to the field was using the conference as a way to meet potential hiring managers and to get familiar with local companies. For me this is an opportunity to help someone I believe in and to help build/mentor people who deserve a helping hand.  During the conference I met several peers who mentioned new projects and potential opportunities, I was able to share my friends details with them and connecting them following the conference to ensure a win/win.

Updating your ‘followers’ with new insights: Most of us have a Twitter account and know how to take advantage of it while attending conferences.  Many speakers, presenters and sponsors have Twitter account and it is a great way to connect with them and help them promote their presence at the conference by sharing a few quotes on your account. As you learn new insights from the sessions you can post them as tweets throughout the conference.  I have found many times that speakers and presenters will notice the tweets and it opens the door for some great in-person/live conversations and much easier introductions.  In addition, the folks who follow my tweets have many times responded with questions or added to the insights I have gleaned and furthered the value.  I have also experienced people on Twitter asking questions as a response to the tweet for the presenter.

Future opportunities to present and share knowledge: I always look for opportunities to uncover future opportunities to present or speak at affiliated events like the one I am attending.  At both conferences I found opportunities to meet people who organize the events and look for potential speakers. The benefit of being a potential future speaker is that it helps to move you forward and prepare topics that interest yourself and could interest others.  It helps to keep you sharp and relevant as our professions transform.

More for fun – A chance for a future drive in a very cool car: I couldn’t help but include a bit of fun as well.  When attending conferences I always meet someone who works for interesting companies and have a different story to tell than the one from companies I am familiar with. This time I ran into a very interesting guy who manages the manufacturing systems at a Silicon Valley Electric Car Manufacturer who recently took over a new factory in Fremont.  They are making a new car that will be ready in 2012 and I am hoping that I can work out some way to get a peak at their amazing manufacturing plant and possibly a ride in their new sedan.

Goes to show you that even if you make a plan and stick to it, you always have to keep your eyes open for those periphery opportunities as well.

Feel free to share your stories and tips as well in the comments section. Even better, if you attended either of the same conferences and found other hidden values, please feel free to share.

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