People attending a Congress

Leveraging Conferences On Your Way to the Top

Have you attended any conferences lately? I have repeatedly found over the last few years that attending conferences is one of the best ways to get ahead in life both personally and professionally. For expanding your expertise and gaining access to thought leaders, these sorts of gatherings are almost essential. The learning and networking that result from your presence, assuming you take full advantage of your time (e.g. muster the courage to talk to the most important people), will surely move you forward in numerous ways and will be well worth the investment. While it’s often times a fairly expensive proposition to attend a conference, that shouldn’t prevent you from aspiring to make it there. Numerous avenues can be explored to attend at a reduced rate, get your costs covered or attend free of charge completely.

As an example in my own life, this past week I volunteered at the Integral Theory Conference outside of San Francisco which, in exchange for a few hours of work per day, permitted me to participate in the pre-conference workshop, panel discussions and side events with minimal out of pocket expenses.  During the four day event, I was able to dive into some fascinating subject matter spanning leadership, business, investing, politics, and philosophy with some of the brightest people around. Furthermore, I was able to expand my network, deepen relationships and explore new opportunities that are directly in line with my vocation.

First and foremost in thinking about conferences, it’s important to get clear on what events are out there that you’d want to attend and the options for making that happen. Follow the steps below to bring this to light:

  1. Determine your vocation(s) or key areas of passion
  2. Search for conferences dealing in that space
  3. Mark upcoming events in your calendar
  4. Rank the strategic priority of those events

I try to keep up with the various conferences in my areas of interest at least six months out especially those that are local. Whether I am going to make them or not, I still mark my calendar just in case something works out last minute. Once you have a prioritized list, I would suggest to do the following:

  1. Explore options for reduced rates or volunteer positions
  2. Reach out directly to the conference organizer to build rapport
  3. Follow up on a regular basis to voice your sincere interest

The most common type of reduced rates will be for early bird or students. With a little planning, signing up far in advance can typically save you big bucks. Requesting a spot as a volunteer is usually your best bet if you aren’t a student, at least initially, and if you are ok working for a bit in exchange. Persistence is key when requesting to be a volunteer especially at a popular conference since the organizers are usually flooded with requests. For example, I volunteered at the Conscious Capitalism 2013 conference in San Francisco this past spring and would not have gotten accepted had it not been for me sending multiple messages albeit appropriately spread out over time.

There are some other routes for getting costs covered for attending conferences beyond a straight forward volunteer position such as acting as an event blogger. It is usually a little challenging to make this happen though unless you have an established social media presence or proven track record. As an alternative option to volunteering all together, explore the possibility of running a crowd-funding campaign to raise the money to attend the conference incorporating creative ways for people to participate vicariously through you (e.g. ask questions on their behalf).

Sometimes the strategic value of attending a conference is there regardless of what it costs. As an example of this, I actually landed my last job after taking a risk of flying across country to attend an industry conference where the leader of the group that I was interviewing for would be presenting. By taking a proactive approach, I was able to make an impression on him during the brief meeting we had (plus, I ended up asking a pertinent question to the other guests on the panel in his favor!) in such a way that resulted in me landing the position.

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