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PHIL HARDWICK — Mississippi conferences and conventions

PHIL HARDWICK

The Mississippi Municipal League Annual Conference is the largest in the state. Held in the summer of each year at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center, it is attended by some 3,000 local elected officials, presenters, vendors, and a variety of other parties. It is only one of hundreds of conferences and conventions each year in the Magnolia State. Some are one-day events such as the Mississippi Economic Council Annual Meeting that draws hundreds of attendees. Others, such as the Mississippi Nurses Association, run for several days and offer a variety of educational courses to affiliated subgroups.

If you’re like most businesspeople you will attend a conference or convention this year. Probably even more than one. By planning ahead you can get the most out of your attendance.
First, consider why you are attending the conference or convention. Are you looking for a new job, in the market for new customers, looking for new vendors, networking with others, or perhaps even making a presentation? Are you attending at the behest of your employer or going on your own?  Perhaps you are with an organization that provides a stipend for you to attend a conference of your choice. If so, how would you sell your boss on the value of attending? Your reason for attending should dictate your activities at the conference.
Next, let people know you are going. Who you notify will depend on your goals for attending the conference. For example, if you are with a company that sells products to attendees, you would certainly want to send an email or other correspondence letting your customers that you will be there and how to reach you at the conference. If you are making a presentation at a conference, you may want to expand your notice to social media and even the press. Most conference attendees say that networking is the best thing they get out of attending conferences. If that’s the case, let your colleagues be informed.
If you’re attending a conference primarily to learn something new, take some time in advance to research the presenters, sponsors and exhibitors. Many conferences that have a lot of educational offerings make it impossible to attend every breakout session. Examine which sessions are most worthy beforehand instead of attempting to decide at the conference.  In other words, decide in advance which sessions you want to attend.
No matter what your reason for attending a conference, take along along plenty of business cards, organization brochures and other other handouts that might be appropriate.  Make it easy for people to connect with you.
Dress for success. Dress codes vary, and seem to be ever-changing downward toward the more casual. Some conferences include guidelines for what to wear at conference events. Even then, sometimes it can be confusing. What exactly is business casual anyway? One clue may be found on the organization’s website. If photos from last year’s conference were posted, check out what attendees were wearing at each event.
Stretch yourself. Are you an introvert or extrovert? If you’re a chatty person, don’t overdo it. People tend to remember others who listen to them, not those who talk to them. If you’re an introvert, it’s tempting to simply attend the sessions and then go back to your hotel room and order room service. Many times, I’ve dreaded going to a conference or session only to have said afterwards, “I’m sure am glad I went.”
After the conference, take time to evaluate and reflect what you liked best and least about the conference. What would you say to a group of coworkers if you had to make a report? Consider who you met and whether you want to follow-up with an email, personal note or phone call. How many times do you  hear or say, “Let’s get together,” but then don’t do so? One person who attends over 30 conferences each year says that when she hears that phrase she takes out her calendar (smartphone) and asks, “When would be a good date and place for you?”
In summary, when it comes to getting the most out of attending conferences and convention, a little planning goes a long way.
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» PHIL HARDWICK is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist. His email address is phil@philhardwick.com.

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