Getting The Most Out Of Conferences

I recently sat down with the one and only Adam Turteltaub of the SCCE to join him on his Compliance Perspectives podcast. As conference season is in full force, we’re diving in to an important topic. How do you get the most out of your conference experience? Here are our top hacks, tips and tricks.

The full recording of this podcast can be found HERE.

Adam Turteltaub: Welcome to the Compliance Perspectives podcast. I’m Adam Turteltaub from the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics and Healthcare Compliance Association. Joining us today from Laguna Beach is Kristy Grant-Hart, who’s the CEO of Spark Compliance Consulting.

She is also a frequent speaker at our conferences at SCCE and as well as others. [She knows about] really great ways to get to know the compliance community and take advantage of what it has to offer and to involve others. What we are going to be talking about today is really how to get the most out of a conference. First, Kristy, thanks for talking to us again and for all the things you’ve done at our conferences over the years.

Kristy Grant-Hart: Hi Adam! Thank you so much for having me. I love conferences. It is coming up to conference season and I get so much energy, I’m a total extrovert. But I’m genuinely jazzed about this podcast and I’m excited about our topic.

Adam Turteltaub: I’m looking forward to it too, both our meetings and some of the others that I’ll be going to. Actually, I’m about to go to a conference as an attendee, which will be very exciting for me. Let’s talk about going to meetings to get the most out of them. First, what should someone do before attending the meeting to make sure that they fully benefit from all the learning at it?

Plan your content


Kristy Grant-Hart: The first thing I would say is if there are multiple tracks or multiple options, set aside an hour or maybe two to review your session choices beforehand. You want a game plan. The worst thing is to try to figure it out on the day, if you have a 10-minute coffee break, trying to frantically look for which sessions are available. You want to make sure that you have a plan going into it. I would say choose your topics. Think about what you want to learn. What’s your three-year plan? What do you need to know for your three-year plan?

While you choose your topics, you should also look at the speakers – what organizations they come from? Do you want to meet them afterward? There’s nothing easier than going up at the end of a session to say, “I loved your session. It’s so nice to meet you. My name is… etc.”

Personally, I like to choose a mix of topics. I want to identify people I want to meet, and also choose speakers I know are good. There are some folks that I would always choose sessions with. Not to call too many out, but Robert Bond or Jonathan Armstrong are two.

There’s so many of them that when you see their names on there, you think, ooh –  Mary, Shirley’s good. I want to see her.

I know I’m going to a session that’s going to have a good speaker at least once in the day, and that can really make sure that I have a good experience. You want some of that variety.

I would also say to plan time to work and answer emails so you’re not doing it during the session. You’re there to learn and to network, so really choose to be present.

One of my favorite mantras from yoga is be here now. Whenever I’m at a conference and things are pulling me in other directions and I want to be working on my work, I think, “I am here now.” I will not be here in an hour. Be here now. If I know that an hour from now, I’ve planned to do my email or to respond to that, that’s okay, I need to be here now. I’m planning for my day.

Organize your networking


Adam Turteltaub: That is a really important point. I can’t tell you how often we all see people running out of the room because they’ve got to do a call or an email. It really does defeat the purpose of being there in the first place if all you’re doing is sitting in the room answering email while somebody talks, and you really don’t have the mental bandwidth to listen.

Is there anything else people should do to prepare beyond picking sessions and speakers?

Kristy Grant-Hart: Yeah, I think you should pre-plan your networking as much as possible. LinkedIn is the magic for all of this. One of the ways to find out who’s going to the conference is obviously looking at the speaker agenda, but one of the best ways I found to pick up who’s going is to create a post that says, “Hey, I’m going to this fantastic conference. Who else is going? Let me know in the comments.”

If it’s someone that says they’re going, fantastic, plan to meetup, message them on the system or email them if you know them. If someone you don’t know says they’re going, frankly, that can be even better. Say, “That’s so great. I’d love to meet up with you.” Now you have a plan to see some people.

If someone has written a book or article, whether it’s on their topic or not, especially if they’re a speaker, try to read it ahead of time.

I like to know where I’m going for dinners or cocktails or the off time. A lot of the exhibit hall vendors at the larger conferences will have dinners or a cocktail/appetizer party. If you’re going to be on your own or you’re new in the industry, I would look at the exhibitor list, especially if you use one of the vendors, contact the reps, and ask if they’re doing any social events you could join. Those events are an easy environment in which to socialize, as opposed to a giant conference hall to feel like you can talk to people.

The last thing I would say is to look for the hashtags that are being used. Most of the conferences now have their hashtag, and you can search by hashtag on LinkedIn to find all the posts relating to the conference in one place. If it’s multi-day, you can comment on the posts. Talk to the people who are posting – they tend to be very connected. It will give you the best review so you can plan on who will be there, especially ahead of time if people are using those hashtags.

How to network successfully


Adam Turteltaub: That’s a great piece of advice. I mean, I must admit, I look through LinkedIn and sort of see what’s going on, but I’m very negligent on the hashtag part of things.

You have talked a lot about networking, and if you are not a natural networker, what are some ways to come out of your shell and feel more comfortable connecting with people who are total strangers?

Kristy Grant-Hart: I was at a conference about a month ago, and they had an exercise that they did in a networking session where you weren’t allowed to use your name or where you’re from. They described different types of networkers as being reluctant or people who really like to give and take, They named all these different types of networkers. Your job was to turn to the person next to you and ask what their type was.

The conversations became so rich so quickly. It was a real eye-opener to me to see how different it was to ask questions that are more meaningful than, “Where do you work?”

Other example questions included, “What are you excited about right now?” When people are excited about something, they want to talk about it, right? “What’s exciting in your life right now?”

People like to talk about things that they enjoy. Things like, “Did you have a summer vacation? Where did you go? When you’re not at work, what’s your favorite thing to do?”

The holidays are coming pretty quickly, so you could ask something like, “Are you celebrating Thanksgiving? Are you celebrating anything over the Christmas or Hanukkah holidays? What’s your favorite thing to do then? Do you dress up for Halloween?”

Just anything that makes it so you’re having a personal connection where people can talk about something other than work because they’ve been talking about work all day.

When all else fails, my favorite go-to question is “where did you come in from?”, because that immediately gives you a sense of place. If it’s the big conference like the Compliance and Ethics Institute, you can usually see on their tag where they’re from, which is really helpful.

If someone is local, I can say, “Oh, you live locally, what kind of restaurant should I go to? Do you have any recommendations?” Or if they come from far away – say, Singapore, I can either say, “Oh, I love Singapore. I went to the night zoo there. It was so cool. Have you been recently?” Or, “I’ve never been to Singapore. What do you recommend I do if I were to go?” You’re giving people something else to say other than the speech again.

The last thing I would say is if you don’t remember if you met someone before (which happens to me all the time because I do so much speaking and go so many places), I have chosen to say, “it is so nice to see you as opposed to, “it is so nice to meet you.” The later avoids that super awkward moment if you don’t remember meeting somebody previously.

I think the last thing I would say is remember that nobody feels comfortable. I am a natural networker and an extrovert, and still, when I go into rooms where I don’t know anyone, I think, “Oh Lord, okay, I have to do this, I’ve got to do this.”

We’re all kind of panicking. We’re all practicing. If you can remember that, then it gives you a human ability to just connect with whoever the other person is because they’re awkwardly standing around too.

Adam Turteltaub: To build on that, I would say one of the things that I have learned and I wish people realize more is the rules do not apply at a conference. If you pass someone on the street, there are rules about what you do and don’t talk. Usually, it defaults to let’s not talk. If you’re at a conference, people are there to meet each other, so it’s not a bad thing to do.

I run the speed networking exercise at our meetings. What’s funny is when you tell people, look, you’re here to meet each other and you only have five or six minutes to do it, there’s no hesitation. People just don’t have a choice. They dive in and it’s easy for them to do.

You need to realize once you walk into that conference center, everything is like that. There are only so many hours of the day. You have something in common with all these people. Take advantage of it. No one’s going to be mad at you for saying, “Hi, good to meet you.”

How to action what you have learned


Adam Turteltaub: Now, let’s talk about after the meeting. You’ve met a lot of people; you’ve gotten a lot of new ideas. How do you leverage that and not just get caught back up in the day-to-day and have it all just sort of quickly fade into a memory?

Kristy Grant-Hart: For me, managing people and ideas is different.

One of the things I like to do is to write down ideas when I see them and hear them. I carry a notebook and every day has a new entry. When I’m at a conference, I write down the things that I think are interesting or that I might use so that I have all of the idea collected on that day in one place. That way, I can go back to the notebook to try to figure out how to make those things work.

Adam, at the last conference I was at, I had several people say, “Let me connect with you on LinkedIn now.” We would open our apps and find each other on LinkedIn because if you notice, I’m sure you have, there are lots of people who have uncommon variations of their names or they only use one version of it, or they have a middle initial and you can’t find them, especially if they’ve got a common name.

What I’ve seen happen recently is this phenomenon where you take out your LinkedIn app and you find them then and there. I think it’s brilliant because you’re not even trying to decipher the name later on, you’re finding it right away.

If I’ve got a really good connection, someone I really like, I will follow up with an email or ask them for an email, message them immediately. Also, if you have promised some sort of follow-up, so you said, “Oh my goodness, I’ve read this great article, I’ll send you the link.” Do it that night so that you continue that relationship quickly. Sooner is always better.

When you are planning for next year, a lot of people go to the same conferences. Look at the people you met, reconnect via LinkedIn, via email and touch base by asking if they’re going again or post again, “Hey, going back to that conference, who’s coming with me?” Even if the people aren’t going with you or they say no, you might have the opportunity to reconnect and say, “Oh gosh, I hope to see you next time. It was so good meeting you.” That just reinforces every single time you go to a conference that your network gets bigger and better.

Adam Turteltaub: Let me add just one thing to that is take advantage of the memo field in Outlook, or Notes. Add the new person’s contact into Outlook, then write down where you met them and what you talked about so you can remember if they reach out or if you need to reach out to that person you talked to about whatever, and you can’t remember that name, you can find it.

It’s also easy, to your point about if you’re going to go next year, to run a search in Outlook and put in whatever the conference name is and see all the people you met there and then just quickly send them a note.

Well, Kristy, thank you for sharing this advice with us. I want to thank all of you for taking the time to listen. I’m Adam Turteltaub from SCCE and HCCA. I hope we’re able to expand your compliance and conference perspective.

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Kristy Grant-Hart

Kristy Grant-Hart

Kristy Grant-Hart is the founder and CEO of Spark Compliance.
She's a renowned expert at transforming compliance departments into in-demand business assets.