The money you spend on a conference is an investment. After paying for flights, lodging, meals, the event itself… it’s basically always going to be $1,000+. So attending a professional conference is an investment which deserves some attention on how exactly to maximize its ROI. It’s important to make sure you give yourself the highest return possible. Because while something like the stock market may be a bit outside your control, what you get out of a conference is largely up to you. Some people tell me about attending conferences and saying how they “pay for themselves.” Forget that. I don’t want a conference to merely pay for itself. I want it to give me a 1,000%+ ROI. The following article explains how that can be done.

PLAN

Fail to plan, plan to fail. When going to a conference, plan ahead. Plan everything from who you will meet to where you will eat. Often, the best meetings are the ones you plan before your plane lands. It shows both parties are very interested in connecting and want to make sure the connection happens.

It’s also important to plan where you eat. First, this means you get to get to eat delicious food. Second, it gives you something to say to people and add value to the conversation. Everyone wants to know where to eat during conferences. Have your recommendations handy. The people you share the information with will probably invite you along.

It’s also important to plan ahead and get as much of your regular work out of the way as possible. Hustle before you depart. I’ve been at conferences before where I had to go back to my room every other hour to do tasks which could have been accomplished from anywhere. Not only is this a little painful to do (you miss your friends downstairs) but also it’s a poor use of time. When you have the opportunity to be with so many great people, doing so many great things – it’s important to take the opportunities. So get as much work done ahead of time as possible.

Have an Objective

Why are you going to the conference again? Make sure you have a concrete reason. This will help you ask the right questions, meet the right people, attend the right sessions and otherwise rock the conference. Even if it’s just to catch up with friends – it’s still good to identify that objective.

Pick and Choose Your Events

Skip out on things that will be recorded. Attend ones which aren’t. I think that’s important. If you can watch sessions later, feel free to do so. Instead, spend the time talking with your peers. And for after-hours events, make sure not to overdo it. What may happen is you may get over exhausted and what you get out of each conversation will decrease. I once went to a conference where I tried to do everything. What I got out of each event was significantly less. Like working, a well executed 50-hour week beats a lackluster 70-hour week every time.

Handle Business Cards like a Pro

Have your business cards ready. It helps to keep plenty of them in the same place on your person. And when receiving a business card, look it over before you shove it in your pocket. Show interest. Feel free to make notes on the back of the card so you remember what you spoke about with the person.

Follow-Up Quickly

Once everyone is heading to the airport – begin your followups. Email everyone and tell them how great it was to meet/catch up with them. But please, only do this if you mean it. A canned email can be spotted from a mile away. Make it sincere.

Value

Make sure you offer value to those you met at the conference. Help them get what they want and you’ll get what you want. Close new deals, begin new partnerships, launch new products – whatever needs done in order to advance your cause. Good luck and make it count!

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William Lipovsky owns the personal finance website First Quarter Finance. His most embarrassing moment was telling a Microsoft executive, "I'll just Google it."

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