Getting ready for PubCon Dallas this year got me thinking about optimization.  Yes the SEO and PPC variety – but also in other ways.  Attending conferences is a critical piece to staying abreast of current industry trends, networking, and getting that face to face time Twitter just can’t replace.

If you’re going to be spending the money to attend, whether its your cash or your employers, it takes some thought (and personal responsibility)  in advance to ensure you’ll get the most out of your time at the event.

Experience Optimization we shall call it, yes?

Heh

I’ve outlined some steps I take when preparing to attend a conference or event to ensure the time and money invested get the fullest return.  This is of course after you check out the conference packing list.

1)   Identify Goals:

This is a big one.  Hence it’s #1 spot.  What are you going to this particular event for?  What are you trying to gain?  These goals should at least be thought about so when going through the rest of the steps you have something to guide your decision making.  Nothing needs to be set in stone, and let’s face it – spontaneity is sexy – but having some goals around knowledge you want to pick up, or tools you want to learn about is key.

2)   Be Clear About Strengths and Weaknesses:

One thing that I think many of us do at events is gravitate.  It’s natural.  Hell, even the planets do it.  But let’s be honest here.  If you’re a PPC rockstar, do you really think you are going to get anything out of a basic level PPC presentation?  Sure there are nuggets of juicy little knowledge dropped all over the place – but don’t let gravity guide your content strategy.  Try hitting up some sessions that cover areas of SEM you’re not as familiar with or could use some strengthening.

3)   Agenda Planning:

Take a look at the conference schedule ahead of time.  Check out the speakers and the session definitions.  (Don’t forget #2) Create a little outline for yourself of all of the sessions you’d like to hit.  In the heat of the moment in the middle of the hustle and bustle it can be painfully easy to lose track of what you had wanted to see.  Having a session agenda for yourself can keep you on track.

4)   Identify the “Who”:

I’m a firm believer that most of the value in conferences are the people you meet.  But this is only true if you make an effort.  If you’re coming alone and don’t know anyone try using social media sites to do some pre-event networking.  If you’re not alone don’t let yourself spend the entire trip in the vacuum of your existing social circles.  Sure it’s great to see your industry friends but don’t be afraid of people you don’t now! Make an effort to meet new people.  Heck – even pull together a short list of people you really want to make an effort to meet ahead of time.

5)   Take Responsibility:

This is critical.  An event is only as good as your experience.  Much of your experience is in your own hands.  Take responsibility for it.  If you’re not learning anything, rather than bitch about the sub-par content, try getting your hiney out of your chair and heading to a new room.  If the parties suck, then grab some old friends and some soon-to-be-old friends and hit up a nice “quality over quantity” dinner and drinks.

6)   Don’t Overbook Yourself:

Be realistic with your time every day.  You undoubtedly still have work you’re responsible for back at home to take care of and at some point you also need to sleep.  At least a bit anyway.  If you overfill your schedule you’re going to  return home haggard and unable to execute on the wisdom you picked up.  You may also miss out on some of the most valuable spontaneous meet-ups.

Surely there are lots of other things you all do to get ready to attend a conference.  What have I missed?

Keep an eye out in the near future for a post outlining tips for wrapping up your conference attendance!