So I’m headed off to the D6 Conference today in Dallas with most of our pastoral staff and a few others from our church.  I will have some small responsibility participating in a lab presentation, but I’m mostly there as an attendee.  I plan a few thousand dollars a year into my budget for conferences and workshops, but the resources are not unlimited, so I try to choose carefully when deciding what conferences to attend.  When I go, I try to prepare to get the most out of my experience.  Here’s what I do to take full advantage of a conference:

  1. Don’t expect too much.  This may sound odd, but I think we often set ourselves up for disappointment by expecting too much from a conference.  Not every speaker, lab session or general session is going to be helpful.  I feel that if I can come away with 1 or 2 good ideas, methods, creative solutions or be inspired in my personal faith, it has been worth my while.
  2. Network a little.  I’m not a social ace, so you won’t find me being the life of the party or the center of attention.  But I do enjoy and thrive on meeting new people and sharing and comparing.  I have actually met people at conferences which God has used to speak something into my life that I needed at that moment and (I believe) vice versa.  I have discovered innovative ideas, tested theories and been encouraged as I have networked with others along the way.  Conferences are a good place to do this.  Be sure to take along business cards for this purpose.
  3. Get up early.  The real temptation at this upcoming conference, since there will be a number of people there whom I know, will be to stay up late talking and hanging out.  I will do some of this (see “Networking” above), but I know myself, and I don’t do well if I don’t get enough rest.  So, I will be reasonable on my late night schedule and I will arise early enough to work out or run, get a light breakfast and cup of coffee and be at my first destination on time.
  4. Make notes.  I may never go back to those notes, but I might.  The very act of writing them down, however, helps me to remember and process the information.  I also can make notations about how this can be applied in my ministry…or, questions I need to ask.  Most good conferences provide a comprehensive booklet in which you can do this in a very organized way and file it later for easy access.

These are a few of the most important ways I make the most of my “conferencing.”  It has paid off over the years and I have always come away from a meeting feeling that I have gained at least one thing that was valuable to me.  In my mind, it illustrates the old adage, “If we fail to plan, we plan to fail.”

How do you make the most of conferences you attend?  How do you determine which ones to incorporate into your schedule?

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