I’ll admit it; I’m a bit of a seminar junkie. I go to every seminar I can and I probably should go to the “Seminars Anonymous” meeting too. The truth is, I’ve learned from all of them (even the bad ones). I sit near the back so that I can find an electrical outlet for my laptop and type furious notes as I’m listening. Some larger conferences offer wi-fi (wireless) access so you can browse the Internet when a speaker mentions a specific site. Trouble is you tend to check your email and wander other places online. And then you’re not actively listening. So beware of being too plugged in.
How do you know if the seminar was worth the cost, the hassle of traveling and the time out of the office? If you’re not purposeful, after a week or two, you may not even remember the name of the great speaker let alone what he or she said or what you got out of it. And you really haven’t changed the way you do business or anything. Here are some steps to take to set yourself up for success before you actually fork out your hard earned dollars.
To get the most out of any seminar (or event in general), there are two sets of preparation, pre and post event. US Army lives by the 5 P’s – Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. So, here are a few things you can do prior to jetting out.
1. The Why Comes First
Way before you buy the ticket and head out the door ask yourself . . .
- WHY are you going?
- What do you want to achieve?
- Is it to meet people? Anyone specific or just general?
- Are you going to get specific information? Get motivated? Get new business?
- What has to happen in order for you to feel it was a successful investment of your time and resources?
- How will you measure your ROI?
- What will it cost to attend the seminar and the associated travel expenses?
- What is the opportunity cost?
- Why, why, why?
Or maybe it’s because you want to corner a speaker for 15 minutes to pick their brain. Determine why you are really going in the first place. This is called a desired outcome. Write out your desired outcome so you know ahead of time what you want to accomplish. In the language of Covey’s 7 habits, this would be habit number two, “Begin with the end in mind.”
2. Get Prepared
Now that you’ve determined why you are going and what has to happen for you to consider it was well worth the time and investment, determine what you need to do to achieve your desired outcome.
What preparation do you need to do before hand? How do you want to position yourself at the event? If one of your desired outcomes is to talk to a certain speaker (or high profile attendee), maybe contact them beforehand and set up a VIP lunch or dinner. If you want to pick up some new business, maybe you bring some samples with you, so you are prepared for an impromptu sales meeting. Maybe there is a contact you want to spend some time with so you fly in a day early or stay a day late. Whatever it is, think about it ahead of time and go in with a plan.
3. Get Physically Prepared
Be sure to get a good night’s rest the night before. It would be a shame to snooze through some very important information that could have a profound effect on your personal life and/or business this year! Lately, I’ve become a physical fitness nut and I won’t book a hotel if they don’t have a fitness gym. Don’t miss your workouts because you’re at the seminar. It’ll help you to stay sharp mentally and physically the entire event and you’ll sleep better. So, prepare your gym bag or swim suit so you can maintain your exercise routine. If I can’t go to the gym, I’ll power up my laptop and throw in my favorite Brian Kest power DVD and do yoga in my room (http://www.poweryoga.com/)
4. Stay Present
In personal development, there’s a saying, “be there where you are.” And it’s not always easy to do that with your mind wandering. This is particularly true while you’re attending the sessions. Wanna know how I tame my wandering mind? Have a piece of paper with the heading, “Thoughts & Action Items” and if any thought or action item no matter how trivial (pick up milk on the way home, call so and so) that is unrelated comes to mind, just write it down and come right back to the seminar. If you try to remember that thought and listen to the speaker, you’ll miss both. The man who chases two rabbits, catches neither. Don’t just be physically present, be mentally here, too.
5. Dress for Success
“You can never be overdressed or overeducated.” ~ Oscar Wilde
You never know who you’ll meet and create a professional first impression! Whenever in doubt, dress up. If it turns out to be casual and you’re the only one in a suit, you can always take off your tie and instantly create a business casual look, but it’s much harder to do it the other way. I admit, with all the travel I do, I’ve not learned to travel light. I take more than I need especially when I’m not sure. Take some nice casual evening wear, so you’re not in your suit all day. People will react differently (more warmly) when you don’t look so formal. Be stylish and let your personality shine through your outfits.
6. Be Ready to Take Active Notes
They may or may not provide pen and paper, but be prepared and bring your own pen, highlighter & writing pad (or journal or laptop or tablet if you type fast) with plenty of pages. If you do mind maps while taking notes (or that is how you take notes), then bring all your color pens. Highlight important things on your notes, write action items on the margin. Not all ideas are equal, draw a light bulb (bright ideas :) next to important ones. Abbreviate whenever possible. I’ve noticed another pattern at seminars lately. People are taking pictures with their phones of the slides so they don’t have to miss anything (or can’t write so fast). It’s hard to keep up with speakers when they’re flipping through slides. It’d help if you sit near the front if you’d like to start doing this (please ask the speaker and/or the organizer if it’s ok to take pics).
7. Network and Meet People You Don’t Know
I hope one of your outcomes for going to any seminar or event is to meet new people. As a matter of fact, I’ve been to many seminars where the speaker and content was mediocre, but it was worth going because of all the contacts I’ve met.
Arrive early, and when people are lining up to get inside the seminar, TALK to them! Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. If you’re not good at this sort of thing, come with a list of questions to ask people. “Where is home for you? What brought you here today? What is your background?” People love to talk about themselves, and the connections you make at personal development and business development seminars are ones you won’t forget. You never know who you’ll meet at a seminar! Sit in a new seat every day, and meet someone new. Don’t eat lunch by yourself. Sit down with someone else and ask them their story. Get to know them. Build up your network.
Once you meet people, figure out who you know in common. It never fails to amaze me how you can randomly meet someone in an elevator, who lives in a different city than you and it turns out you know a ton of the same people. This is important because it helps you quickly bond with people and form a relationship. I’ve landed new clients because it turned out we knew several of the same people, which gave me instant credibility.
And most important advice: when you exchange business cards, write on the back of the card what event, city and date you met (may also write something special to remember them). And these days of ready smart phones, take a picture of them (or better get in the picture and let someone else take it). This will help you to remember them. I attach the photo to the contact and it easily reminds me of who they are.
8. Take Full Responsibility for Your Success.
Now that you’ve predetermined your intention and outcome, don’t look anywhere else for your success, but in the mirror. Do whatever it takes to make the most of the seminar and get your outcome. You are where you are as a result of all the decisions YOU have made in the past. If you don’t like where you are, take full responsibility and make better decisions.