Tips for avoiding the ‘conference-on-a-shelf’ dilemma

Have you ever attended a conference or workshop, learned about new ideas, and then returned home – putting the information on the shelf and not ever fully utilizing the knowledge gained or the connections developed?

Conferences and other employment training opportunities are often expensive. Although they have the potential to be extremely beneficial to both the individual and employer, the return on investment should be justified – with a plan for how the information will be used.

In our busy lives, many of us find it all too easy to get caught up in day-to-day circumstances upon returning from professional development programs. The materials from the program go on a shelf and are promptly forgotten. Unfortunately, without an active plan, this behavior could lead to decreased support for attending future workshops or conference functions.

So, how do you get the most out of attending a conference or workshop? Chose the professional development opportunity that suits your needs and, most importantly, plan how to maximize the experience! These thirteen suggestions will increase the return on investment when attending a conference, justifying your attendance before, during and after the workshop.


1. Set intentions

What do you want to get out of the conference? How can your goals be achieved? What topics are most pertinent to your job, your employer and others in your organization? What does your boss expect to accomplish by allowing you to attend? Create a post-conference action plan.

2. Research

Review the agenda for subject matter, speakers and topics. This may spark questions that you can ask at the conference. If there are multiple sessions at one time, it will help you to choose the best options. Review the attendee list for people whom you may want to meet, and make it a point to seek them out during free time.

3. Communicate

Contact presenters or attendees with a short email or note, to let them know of your interest, or that you look forward to meeting them.

4. Offer help

Often, conferences or workshops request volunteers for short time periods, providing a networking opportunity. Check with the organizers to see if there is a task that would suit your abilities.

5. Be prepared

Bring business cards and other items that will help enrich and track your experience.


6. Introduce yourself to as many people as you can.

7. Follow-up with the people you contacted prior to the conference or workshop.

8. Network with people sitting next to you and those with whom you have become acquainted.

9. Take notes, keeping your post-conference plan in mind.

10. Take care of yourself, and be sure to include time for the things that rejuvenate and energize you.


11. Compile notes and share them with others.

12. Follow-up on your post-conference action plan designed before the conference or workshop.

13. Evaluate what could have made this conference more valuable, and what you might do differently next time.

Professional development can offer effective learning opportunities for everyone. Conferences and workshop provide new ideas, insights, resources, partnerships and educational opportunities. Using these 13 points before, during and after a conference or workshop will enhance your return on investment, and strengthen the importance of continued attendance at professional development workshops. For more professional development advice, visit the Michigan State University Extension website under the "Business" category.

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