Ask Anthony: How Do I Make the Most of Attending a Civil Engineering Conference?

So, you are signed up for an upcoming civil engineering conference, and now it’s time to start putting together a plan to ensure that you get the most out of the event.

I know what you are thinking. A plan? Seriously? I am busy enough as it is with my projects, I don’t have time to plan ahead for a conference.

Well, I’m here to urge you to think again, and, because I explained in a previous article why it was so important to attend conferences, below I want to offer you some strategies for ensuring that you get the most out of yours.

1. Identify the sessions that will most help you move toward your goals.

I am assuming that you have at least one professional goal you are currently working towards, whether it be obtaining your P.E. license, moving toward a project manager role in your firm, or planning to start your own business.

Take some time prior to the conference to review the sessions and identify the ones that will most help you achieve your goals. I also like to do some research on the session instructors in an effort to either connect with them beforehand on LinkedIn, or learn enough about them to approach them before or after their sessions.

Convention Program sidebar2. Develop a list of at least 10 people you want to meet at the conference.

Many conferences give registered attendees access to a list of all attendees. Go through this list, as well as the list of speakers, and identify 10 people whom you would like to meet.

I recommend trying to meet other experts in your field or professionals at other firms that you might partner with on projects. Having a list will keep you focused on meeting these people as opposed to just going in with the general intent of networking. If the conference doesn’t publish an attendee list, call the conference organizers and ask for one. You’ll always have the list of speakers, too.

3. Prepare to capture information.

Whether it’s information conveyed in a session, or simply a business card, be prepared to capture it. I recommend bringing along a pen and a notebook for this, or use your iPad with an online note-taking program like Evernote or OneNote.

I have a small Cross notebook that comes with a pen in the binding and has a small pocket in the inside of the back cover where I can place business cards.

4. Prepare to network.

When I say network I mean meet people and start to build relationships. Some things you can do to prepare to network are:

• Bring business cards and keep them on you in an easy-to-access location.

• Research key attendees, as I discussed earlier.

• Prepare some simple conversation-starting questions like, “What made you want to become a civil engineer?”

A little preparation can dramatically increase the number of relationships you start to build at a conference, and in my opinion, networking is the most valuable aspect of conferences.

5. Plan on dressing to impress.

Many engineers adopt the mindset that they should dress casually for conferences because they are mainly there to sit in sessions and learn. I attend conferences to meet people and build my network, and as part of that strategy, I always try to dress up nice at events.

Your appearance plays a huge role in whether people want to connect with you and also is integral to the mental image of you they catalog in their mind. When they think of you after the conference, they will remember a sharp-looking engineer in a suit or someone in wrinkled khakis and a polo shirt. Your call.

I hope you decide to implement some of these strategies for your next conference to maximize your conference experience. Please share in the comments section below some of the strategies you use in preparing for and getting the most out of conferences.

Anthony Fasano, P.E., M.ASCE, is the founder of the Engineering Career Coach website, which has helped thousands of engineers develop their business and leadership skills. He hosts the Civil Engineering Podcast, and he is the author of a bestselling book for engineers, Engineer Your Own Success. You can download a free video series on his website that will give you the tools needed to immediately improve your networking and communication skills by clicking here.

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  1. Anthony:

    Solid advice.

    An added thought: Some of what you suggest is even more likely to happen if the conference attendee has been asked by his/her boss to do one thing immediately after the conference, such as:

    * Give me a one page memo indicating one or more key things you have learned and how your will use it to benefit you, our clients/stakeholders, and/or our organization.

    * Present a brown bag that addresses the preceding topic.

    Heading off to the conference with an expectation like one the preceding will encourage the attendee to prepare — to do what you suggest.


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