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Finally, you get the approvals required to attend that conference that you have been looking forward to. You know that conferences provide both information gathering opportunities and access to insights that you just cannot get by staying put in the workplace. It makes good sense then to attend. You also know that conferences can be expensive. Not just in financial terms but also in workplace terms. Even in this Blackberry connected world, three or four days away from the ‘coal face' can cost you big time in terms of catch-up when you return. And let's face it, conferences can be exhausting.

So, how do you leverage your time and investment to get the greatest value from your conference experience? Well, there is an old axiom that bad attendees make bad conferences so start by being a good attendee, this will help you, and your professional peers. To help you get the most from your next conference here are five tips for being a good conference attendee.

1. Be clear about why you are going.
Are you going for a break in a sunny location or are you taking up a valuable chance to learn? If you are going for a break, good luck to you. Recharging the batteries is important. But don't kid yourself that you can have both a break and get the most out of a conference, you can't. Conferences require work so be clear about why you are attending.

2. Keep an open mind.
An engaged and open-minded person can derive huge additional benefits when attending the same conference as someone who thinks they know all the answers. Open minded people leave themselves open to new perspectives and experiences and while they may hear many things that they do know, they usually glean something new to help them achieve their goals at work. Keep an open mind and you will get greater value from your time and attendance.

3. Participate.
A good conference is not just about great speakers but also delegates who are prepared to discuss issues and even challenge ideas and thinking. Listen to what is being said, take notes, and ask questions. As a speaker I am amazed at how often there are no questions during the Q&A at the end of a session but then ten people approach you with questions as soon as the session ends. If you have a question I am certain that someone else in the audience will have the same question. And maybe someone else will have an answer. Participate in the conference and you might just get more back than you put in.

4. Plan ahead.
The program is usually published well in advance so take the time to research it. When you register at the conference locate the presentation rooms and become familiar with the layout of the hotel or conference center. It is not easy to juggle concurrent sessions at the last minute so be sure about who you want to hear and where you need to be. Also, don't be too rigid about the topics that you follow, sometimes a ‘left field' presentation can give you the new perspective that changes your thinking.

5. Network.
I know that many people hate the idea of networking. They see networking as just making small talk with strangers or something that sales people do to ‘schmooze' their way to a sale. But networking is important if you are to get the most out of your conference. Attend the breakfasts and social events and target face-to-face interactions with select speakers. They are there to share their know-how and experiences, they won't be shy in talking with you! And why not review the delegate list to identify good performing companies and try to meet with their delegates. If you are unsure about doing this, ask yourself how you would react if a professional peer approached you for a discussion about what you do well. Networking is an important aspect of getting the most out of a conference.

As someone who has been attending conferences and trade fairs as both a delegate and speaker for more than 20 years I think that I learned all of the above lessons the hard way. I have made all of the mistakes and so hope that you can leverage my experience and make the most of your next and future conferences.

Tip provided: by Phill Slater

Phillip Slater is a Materials and Spare Parts Management Specialist and the author of four management books. He speaks regularly at conferences around the world and attends just as many as a delegate. Phillip will be presenting on Spare Parts Management Best Practices at Solutions 2.0 - the 25th International Maintenance Conference, Nov 8-11 2010 at Bonita Springs, Florida. You can read more about Phillip at www.PhillipSlater.com.

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