Attending professional development conferences is an important part of your personal branding efforts. At any stage in your career, you will find benefits from the networking and education offered at these events. You can get a lot out of your industry's association gatherings without social networking. However, I am going to talk about a few things you can incorporate to increase the ROI of the price you are paying for your registration, time and travel.
Business cards are the foundation of the networking experience. At some point in the near future, they will be eliminated by technology. However, for now, they are still required. Don't be afraid to give your card to anyone you meet. If you end up being bombarded with phone calls from people trying to sell you their services when you return to the office, give them a few minutes and determine if you would be a potential client for them. Any good salesperson will only spend time cold calling people who are a good fit for their product. If you have control over what goes on your business card, add your LinkedIn public profile address. If you haven't changed the address where people can find your profile, do that first! You want it to be simple, i.e. www.LinkedIn.com/in/elizabethglau. If you are using Twitter and Facebook for professional networking, add these addresses along with your website or blog if you are providing useful information there.
Find the event on Facebook or LinkedIn so you can RSVP there and let your peers and colleagues know you are attending. Industry groups on these platforms can also hold a lot of useful information, either logistically or for people you should meet. The conference organizers may have developed a platform where you can create a profile just for the conference. If it is available to you, use it! It will make your networking efforts more efficient and increase the number of people you meet.
Look at the conference website to determine what the hashtag will be on Twitter so you can start seeing what people are talking about, and find new people to follow on Twitter. The best case scenario is to start a relationship on social media and then meet that person face to face at a networking event. You have an instant connection when you meet and it propels your relationship further than a cold introduction. I will be attending the Meeting Professionals International World Education Congress July 23-26. Go to Twitter and type in #wec11 to follow the conversation if you have never seen the kind of information people post while they are attending a conference.
What else do you do to prepare for an industry event?