Attending supply chain management conferences is potentially one of the greatest investments you can make in yourself as a young professional. You’ll learn about the current state of the field and related trends; develop and expand your professional network; acquire new skills; and discover innovative ideas, technologies and approaches. You may even get the opportunity to identify a great career opportunity. But to fully realize these benefits, you need a game plan. Bringing a stack of business cards and just hoping for the best is not enough. Multiple days of speakers, sessions and conversations can leave your head spinning. To avoid becoming overwhelmed, preparation is key. Here are some tips to help.
Before the conference
Have a goal. Why are you attending? Perhaps you want to sit in on a workshop about a topic that is critical to your career. Or maybe you want to network with peers, supply chain experts and influencers, or your dream employer. The more specific your objectives, the more you can maximize the value.
Do your homework. The conference website should list keynote speakers, educational sessions, presenters and companies attending well in advance. Based on the goals you defined previously (the why), create an outline of the who, what, when and where. Let’s say you are hoping to acquire a new job with a particular business (why). You then should determine which company representatives will be in attendance (who), the sessions they are presenting (what), and the times (when) and locations of the sessions (where). Or, consider setting up a specific appointment with someone from the company to ensure you have the opportunity to make a connection.
Know your elevator pitch. This should succinctly convey who you are, what you do and why you are attending the conference (your goals). A well-developed pitch, in tandem with your business card, can help you quickly and effectively present your expertise and credentials.
During the conference
Contribute. Delivering a presentation or facilitating a session provide a platform upon which to be heard and give you visibility among the thousands of attendees. They also make it easier for people to approach you — and vice versa.
Focus on quality conversations. Unless you are a networking superstar, it’s difficult to keep up your enthusiasm when engaging so many people in such a short period of time. By taking a more targeted approach — for instance, specifically approaching someone who is aligned with your game plan — you will enjoy more meaningful, in-depth discussions. Keep in mind that a quality dialog requires you to be genuinely curious. Some of the best conversations you have at a conference will stem from asking the right questions at the right time.
Take notes. A ton of new information is going to be coming your way. Be sure to write down the ideas, concepts, techniques and skills that you hear about. Similarly, take notes about your conversations. These records will help you develop your professional network post-conference and give you specific talking points to keep the conversation going off the conference floor.
Attend the social events. These more relaxed settings can help you get to know your peers and even superiors on a more personal level. Be genuine and open, and you will find that others return the favor.
After the conference
Follow up intelligently. Your time and effort at a conference can only fully manifest themselves if you follow up with the individuals you connected with at the event. Be specific in your post-conference outreach, and include reference points to jog peoples’ memories and content and questions relevant to your on-site discussions.
Share what you’ve learned. Sharing takeaways is valuable to your coworkers, colleagues and classmates and also helps you reinforce your new skills and knowledge to ensure that your investment in the conference pays dividends long after you return to your desk.
Rex Magadia works in transportation and logistics at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He was the APICS L. L. Waters Scholar and currently is pursuing his Master of Business Administration degree in global supply chain management. Magadia may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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