This week, I had the pleasure of spending time with early career advancement professionals at Boston University. We had a great time talking about ways to hack your next professional conference. What did we miss? What’s your favorite hack?

  1. Come with a plan. You can attend a conference to team-build, deepen your network, learn a new skill, or advance your knowledge of the field. But you won’t reach your goal unless you define it in advance. Check out the personal conference plan worksheet here.
  2. Ask a really smart question. Smart questions are on topic, expand on a key theme, and are actually questions.
  3. Meet a celebrity. Ok, George Clooney is probably not attending the next CASE conference. But maybe you can make friends with a Vice President for Advancement from another school.
  4. Dress to impress – but don’t be afraid to add some memorable flair. It helps people remember you. I was the one in the black suit doesn’t go as far as I was the one with the tiger socks.
  5. Attend a session on a topic you know nothing about. Get smarter. Think outside of your box.
  6. Find a mentor. Someone who is 5-10 years ahead of you in career or life stage. It’s always great to have a kitchen cabinet of internal and external colleagues from the same field.
  7. Don’t waste time in the bathroom line. Between sessions is the best time for networking, so if nature calls, don’t be afraid to go before the session ends.
  8. Bring home a new skill or resource. And share it with others. Show your boss return on his or her investment.
  9. Report sexual harassment. If someone’s behavior is troubling, let a conference organizer know. Don’t be a bystander.
  10. Find your next work spouse. If you meet someone who might be great for your team, introduce them to hiring managers or internal recruiter. Soon, you can be working with your new BFF!
  11. Be amazing – and let people know it. You are acting as the mascot for your organization. Come prepared with positive stories to tell about your organization, your team, and your role.
  12. Know how to start – and end – a conversation. Smile. Be friendly. And practice the pivot.
  13. Get some fresh air. Take advantage of the time to re-set your perspective and priorities.
  14. Drink Scotch, not Miller Lite. Figuratively, not literally. Spend some time with senior colleagues, from your own organization or others. You’ll learn so much about what it takes to be at the top.
  15. Remember, you are always on the record. Speak well of your organization. The world is small. So small. And others are watching.
  16. Be first in line. If you like a speaker, beeline it to the podium or stage when the session ends. Compliment their work. Invite them to have a follow up conversation
  17. Pick good sessions. You can pick a winner based on the topic, the speakers, or other attendees in your session.
  18. Do a little stalking. Make a target list of the leaders you might want to meet, and make session choices accordingly. Know your peer institutions, so you can connect with leaders with relevant experience.
  19. Keep up with the home front. Check in with your boss at least once a day, and have clear expectations about what you need to get done while you are away so you can plan accordingly.
  20. Use social media wisely. Twitter is a great way to interact with conference organizers and speakers, especially if it’s a large gathering. Don’t be afraid to turn online interaction into real-life conversations too.
  21. Dress like you are on a job interview, but don’t bring your resume to a conference. Make long-lasting relationships, not transactions.
  22. Carry business cards you collect in one place and your cards in another. When someone hands you a card, jot down a note to remind you of your conversation or follow up plan.
  23. Follow up with the people you meet. Schedule a tea or lunch right away to keep the lessons and momentum going.
  24. Thank your boss. When you get back, be gracious about the opportunity to attend a conference and learn something new. A timely and thoughtful thank you note goes a long way!