I love going to compliance conferences.  They are a chance to learn new things, meet interesting people, make new friends and feel renewed inspiration for my calling as a compliance and ethics professional.  That being said, I have certainly made some mistakes along the way that made attending conferences less enjoyable and productive than they could have otherwise been.  Learn from my misadventures!  Below are five tips for making the most of your conference experience.

Book Your Room Early.  Even if there are plenty of rooms available when you first sign up for the conference, don’t delay with booking your room.  Booking earlier means getting a better price, a greater possibility of requesting a room with particular features and, most importantly, avoids the possibility that the hotel completely books up.  At the last SCCE conference in Chicago, I waited until a month before the conference to reserve a hotel room, only to find that there were no rooms available.  While my colleagues could go up their rooms on a whim to set down their swag, change clothes, answer emails, I had to make the choice between lugging everything around with me all day or journeying back to a separate hotel.

Square Away Work Before You Go to the Conference.  It’s a rare compliance officer who doesn’t end up doing at least some work during a conference.  But to the extent possible, try to make sure that the time spent at the conference is truly spent at the conference and not dealing with work issues.  I suggest sending out an email to your co-workers as soon as you book the conference, letting them know you will not be available on the dates of the conference.  Several weeks before the conference, remind them again, and then again the week before the conference.  Be firm about your lack of availability.  After all, you are not going on a holiday (although you are entitled to that as well!) – you are attending the conference in order to gain valuable knowledge and resources to bring back to your company.  Ask any co-workers who are not going to the conference to handle certain matters while you are gone.  If you have people working under you, designate as many tasks to them as is practicable.  Then, before you leave the office, set up an automatic away message on your email letting people know that you are out of the office and that your response may be delayed.  I also suggest not responding immediately to non-emergency emails that come in for you, as this sends the message that you are indeed available.  

Arrive a Day Early or Stay a Day Late.  One of the best parts about being a compliance officer is the opportunity to travel!  Of course, business travel is not the same as leisure travel, and all too often we end up seeing little more than the inside of a hotel room when we are in some of the most marvellous cities in the world.  If you can, arrive a day early or stay a day late to take in the sites, perhaps see a friend who lives in the city, or at least enjoy the local cuisine outside of the hotel restaurant.

Don’t Forget to Bring Your Business Cards!  Do you have 1000 business cards sitting in a desk drawer?  Bring them to the conference!  Although I proudly packed what I thought were all the essentials into one bag for this last European Compliance and Ethics Institute in Prague, I completely forgot to bring extra business cards.  I had exactly one card in my wallet and it was gone before the first session even began.  Although I was definitely not the only person to forget or run out of business cards, these events are precisely the time when you want to have them on hand.  Exchanging business cards helps people remember your name and the conversations you had.  It’s also a business custom that helps break the ice – and not having a business card to offer to someone when they hand you their card can be an awkward moment.

Try to Go to Everything.  Conferences are jam-packed with morning breakfast, sessions, networking events, networking lunches, more sessions and networking events, a multitude of vendor booths, and dinners or happy hours.  This is exhausting, especially if you are coming from a different time zone.  But grab a cup – or three – of coffee and try your best.  For many compliance officers, budget restrictions mean that compliance conferences come but once a year.  The more sessions you attend the more you will learn, the more networking events you go to the more people you will meet, the more booths you stop at the more tools you will be aware of and have at your disposal – making your conference experience as rich as possible.

Lastly, wear comfortable shoes.  The days are long but worth it- I’ll see you in Vegas!

Diana Trevley is the West Coast Director at Spark Compliance Consulting.  She can be reached at DianaTrevley@SparkCompliance.com