Attending  a conference is a great way to build your professional network while also having a lot of fun in the process. The benefits of attending a conference can be numerous as long as you make the necessary preparations. Showing up to a conference unprepared will not only damage the reputation of the company you are representing, but it can also lead to some pretty awkward interactions with your fellow conference-goers.

As a regular conference-goer, I’ve compiled a few tips to help you make the most out of conferences:

1. Pre-Network

Conference preparation should start at least a month or two before the conference begins. The best way to spend this time is to start making connections with other people who are going to be attending the conference.

Some smart ways to prepare include joining forums, reading blog articles and searching social media for anyone who has already begun talking about the conference.  If you find someone you’d like to connect with while at the conference, then send them a friendly email introducing yourself and asking if they would like to meet up for coffee or a beer while at the conference.

It’s also important to try to schedule one or two meetings for each day of the conference before you arrive. These meetings are great for networking because the introductions have already been made so you can skip the awkward pleasantries and move right into forming a relationship.

2. Pre-Stock

Pre-stocking on things like business cards and pens before a conference might sound obvious, but it’s surprising how many people run out of these things.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met someone on the second or third day of a conference and gotten the “I thought 100 cards was enough, but I guess not” spiel.

As a rule of thumb, bring at least 250 business cards to every conference. It is also important not to wait until the week before the conference to order extras as they might not arrive in time.

Lastly, make sure to stash business cards and pens in all of your bags and jackets so you’re prepared even while you’re traveling. I’ve even been known to keep some in my gym shorts pockets if I plan on using the hotel gym!

3. Rehearse

You’ll hear a lot of people talk about “perfecting your elevator pitch” before attending conferences. Basically what this means is that you should be able to explain what you do and what you’re looking to get out of the conference in 30 seconds.

However, in my experience you hardly ever have a full 30 seconds, so a 10 to 15 second pitch may be more realistic. Avoid using jargon and get to the point quickly so that the conversation can progress from there. Can you think of anything worse than getting stuck in a conversation with someone who rambles on while you’re trying to work a room?

4. Develop an Attack Plan

If you want to maximize your conference experience, it is imperative that you use your time wisely. Although keynotes and seminars are a main focus of conferences, sometimes it is better to forgo some of them in order to do more networking.

Familiarize yourself with the speaking agenda and research whether or not the speeches will be filmed. At many conferences, the speeches are filmed and posted online later for attendees and others in the industry to view. If this is the case, I suggest spending 80% of your time networking and only 20% attending seminars.

If the keynotes are not filmed, try to split up the sessions between you and your colleagues. Take notes during the presentations and share them with each other afterwards. Covering as much ground as possible is the best way to ensure you are getting the most bang for your buck.

5. Take Notes

One of the most difficult things about conferences is remembering all of the people you meet. I usually end up with a couple hundred business cards after conferences and can hardly remember anyone’s face, let alone what they do.

To alleviate this problem, always carry a pen and jot down notes on the business cards you receive. This not only will help you to recall your conversation with someone, but it also serves as a great way to kick off a follow-up conversation after the conference is over.

If you have any conference tips that you would like to share, share them in the comments section below!